NORTHRIDGE, Calif. --- As they prepare for the 2012 season, the Cal State Northridge women's tennis team hits the court with as much depth as 15th-year head coach Gary Victor can remember. While finding time for them all to take their place on centre court is one worry, expecting another competitive season of Matador tennis is not.
"Our roster is very deep. We have a lot of players really coming into their own and that is creating some fantastic practices. We have asked them to step up and accept new leadership roles and they have responded with a tougher mentality and a greater work ethic," Victor said.
At the top of the Matador rotation is senior Jennifer Sher, who earned All-Big West First Team Singles and Doubles honors in 2011. She finished the season 17-5 overall in singles, including a 6-2 mark in Big West matches. In doubles, she posted an individual record of 21-3 overall and 7-1 against conference opposition.
"Jennifer is a year-round athlete. She really takes care of her fitness and loves to play. That speaks volumes to consistency and success. I expect her to compete among the top players in the conference again," Victor said.
Another senior, Nigora Sirojiddinova, also expects to be a prominent feature in the Matador line-up all season. Sirojiddinova brings in a 41-25 career singles mark and is 36-22 in doubles play over her first three seasons. She has posted at least 11 singles victories in each of her first three campaigns at CSUN.
"Nigora has put in a lot more work than she has in the past. She is determined to finish strong and is a great teammate. She wants to leave her mark on this program and is poised to do so," Victor said.
Moving down a class, the team features four juniors that have all experienced success at the Division I level. Maria Pistalu, originally from Munich, Germany, earned All-Big West Doubles Honorable Mention honors in 2011 after finishing with a 14-5 individual record and a perfect 7-0 mark against league opponents. She also carries a 26-10 career singles mark through two seasons.
"Maria's mental focus is much more sharpened this season and that should translate to an even better season on the court. She can be a difference maker out there and we need her to bring that mentality," Victor added.
Anna Yang is another junior at Victor's disposal. She brings in a career doubles record of 27-13 into the year, having earned All-Big West Conference First Team honors in 2010. Yang has also produced an 18-13 singles mark in two seasons.
"Anna has worked hard to increase her fitness level and brings a passion to the sport that I have rarely seen. She has really matured on and off the court over the past 12 months and I expect her to make a big impact with this squad," Victor said.
Junior Sabrina Man-Son-Hing arrived as a transfer last season from Concordia and quickly established herself as one of the team's top doubles players. She finished 17-8 individually in doubles play, including a 6-2 mark in Big West play, and is expected to join Sher as the top group in 2012.
"Sabrina has made a large improvement to her singles work and she is playing at a very high level. If she can keep her confidence up and maintain that high level of play in both singles and doubles, she will be a force for us in the lineup," Victor said.
The final junior, Ryma Korab, went 5-2 last year in singles play, her first extended action with the team. She picked up the winning point in the Matadors' victory over Georgetown and is certainly expected to compete for singles action.
"Ryma is an outstanding student-athlete who has continued to improve and is a valuable member of our program," Victor said.
The team only one has true sophomore, Lorraine Cheung, although she certainly carries the class banner on successful shoulders. Cheung went 14-6 in singles action in her first season, picking up notable victories over Nevada, USC, Hawai'i, San Diego State, Georgetown, Pacific and Cal Poly.
"In just one year, Lorraine has become one of our top players under pressure. She loves being in the moment and having the opportunity to win for her team," Victor said.
Among freshmen, Victor has five all looking forward to their intercollegiate debut. Amber Walker, Corrine Schnyder, Shelby Sinoway, Marjani Simmons and BreJohn McCrary all bring in extensive amateur credentials and give the Matadors flexibility in their line-ups.
"They are all great kids. They all work very hard and have adapted to the collegiate game and the demands of our program extremely well. They are all fantastic people in their own way," Victor said.
They'll need it as Victor has lined-up another challenging schedule in addition to the rigors of Big West play. The Matadors open the season at the ITA Kickoff Weekend Invitational on the campus of the University of Miami. CSUN will face the host Hurricanes and either South Florida or UCSB in Coral Gables.
A south Florida native, Victor expects the trip to serve as a good early challenge.
"It's a thrill to bring our team to my old neighborhood. I grew up in Coral Gables and my family is still all within an hour of the Miami campus. It's an exciting time for myself and for the team." Victor said.
"Miami is a great program that has experienced national success and we look forward to the challenge. It is a great opportunity to see how we stack up against some of the best. This is a national invitational. Not every team gets this chance and we surely want to take advantage of it."
Following the trip to Florida, the team will face the likes of Pepperdine, Gonzaga, LMU, Furman, Portland and Dartmouth among non-conference opponents. League matches are scattered throughout the calendar and the Big West Championships are slated for April 26-29 in Indian Wells, Calif.
"The league will be competitive as always. The top of the conference is very solid and we look forward to renewing acquaintances with all our rivals," Victor concluded. "We had seven of the nine league schools ranked in the top 80 last season and that puts the Big West Conference and its members among the top 25 percent in all Division I tennis."