With five freshmen and only one returning player for the Southwest Minnesota State women's tennis team, head coach Charlie Kost knows this season will be all about building experience for his young group.
"We're very young, looking at this year as kids to get good experience and improve as tennis players," said Kost, who is in his second stint as the Mustangs' head coach. "We're looking towards the future. We have five freshmen now, then if we can get two or three more next year and two or three more the year after, we'll have a strong group of seniors and juniors."
SMSU begins its 2012 season today, taking on St. Thomas and St. Catherine in Minneapolis. Sunday, the Mustangs head to St. Paul to play Macalester. In 2011, the team was 3-11 overall, 3-8 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
The only returning player from last year's squad is senior Angie Wiegmann, who has a career record of 17-41 in singles and 28-37 in doubles. She will be counted on as SMSU's No. 1 singles player, and as the senior captain, the leader of the inexperienced squad.
"Angie really enjoys tennis and she's done a good job in that regard," Kost said. "As a team last year, one of the good points was how well everyone got along and played together. With Angie's leadership, I can see that already. The freshmen are enjoying the experience."
Among the newest players, MACCRAY grad Katie Kienitz looks to be one of the Mustangs' top players, playing with Wiegmann on No. 1 doubles and taking the No. 2 slot in singles. Kienitz qualified for the state doubles tournament in 2010.
Vying for spots down the rotation will be freshmen Allison Niedert and Hannah Hagen. Hagen comes to SMSU from Yellow Medicine East High School.
But first, the Mustangs are looking to get healthy. Kost said Niedert is dealing with shin splints, while Katelyn Turner and Ashley Plucker are dealing with knee injuries. Turner's status is unknown for this season, while Plucker is expected to return around spring break.
Right now, Kost is expecting some ups and downs, but the ultimate goal is to use this season as a building block for the Mustangs' future.
"One of the big things will just be the experience," Kost said. "They'll see what level they have to play at to compete at the college level. There are things we can say in practice, but until they experience it, they won't know for sure. Get a comfort level in that process. ... Hopefully we will see the improvement, as they get better phsyically and conditon-wise."