By Cameron Blair

Eastern’s women’s tennis team will look to improve on their fifth-place finish in the OVC last season with the help of a familiar face likely to strike fear into the rest of the conference’s players.Senior Meredith Giles returns to the team after sitting out the 2007 campaign. The Adelaide, Australia native was named the 2006 OVC Player of the year after going 18-6 in singles play, including a 9-1 record in conference action.

“Anytime you add a player of Meredith’s caliber to the team it definitely increases [your] talent level,” Head Coach Rob Oertel said.

Eastern did lose Lucia Vojtkova to graduation. The Slovakia native went undefeated in OVC singles play last season with a 10-0 mark on her way to making the All-OVC first team and being named an Academic All-American by ESPN the Magazine.

Giles should have plenty of help around her this season, despite the loss of Vojtkova. The Colonels are bringing back three players who saw significant action in 2007.

Junior Svetlana Pimenova finished 12-13 and 5-5 in the OVC in singles competition last season. Pimenova played all of her singles matches in the no. 1 position, which meant she faced the opposing team’s best player.

Juniors Alexandra Sitnikova and Jemma Euers are also coming off solid 2007 campaigns. Sitnikova won seven of her ten OVC singles matches last season while Euers went 8-2 in conference singles play.

Oertel seemed to be cautiously optimistic about the team heading into the season.

“The talent level on this team is the highest I’ve ever seen,” Oertel said. “But talent doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to win matches.”

Oertel also praised his players for more than their high talent level

“The competitiveness on this team is extremely high,” Oertel said. “We are going to be a team that no team is going to like to face.”

The team will also have its share of new faces on the court this season. Four freshmen will be vying for playing time for the Colonels in 2008. Myriem Mhirit of Rabat, Morocco; Vera Heimeroth of Arnsburg, Germany; Anouk Faure of Perly, Switzerland; and Maggie Gleason of Huntington, W. Va. are all newcomers to the team.

Oertel said the roles of the freshmen are not set in stone heading into the season opener Saturday.

“We are still figuring out the talent level of these players,” Oertel said. “We have to see how they compete in real matches first.”

Oertel will get the chance to see how the newcomers compete when Eastern opens its season Saturday with a doubleheader at The Greg Adams Indoor Tennis Center. The Colonels will face Georgetown College at 9 a.m. and Xavier at 1 p.m.

Eastern will be looking to defeat the Musketeers for the first time in the program’s history.