LEWISBURG, Pa. – Back on its home turf after a summer of training, Bucknell women’s tennis will host the season-opening Bucknell Quad Sept. 7-9 at the Varsity Tennis Courts. The Bison, which feature a young squad of 10 freshmen and sophomores, will host Saint Francis (Pa.), Loyola (Md.) and Indiana (Pa.) in the first of their preparations for the 2012-13 campaign.

It has been more than a year since the Bison have faced any of their weekend opponents in a dual match. Bucknell, Saint Francis and Loyola did meet at the Bucknell Invitational last fall, a tournament in which the Greyhounds did especially well. Loyola won the Flight A titles in both singles and doubles, and took runner-up status in both flights B and C singles. The Bison prevented the sweep thanks to Jen Bush (Hinsdale, Ill./Hinsdale Central) and Alyssa McAndrew’s (Fairfield, Conn./Fairfield Ludlowe) Flight B championship.

Below is a more in-depth look at Bucknell women’s tennis’ upcoming 2012-13 season.

In the 2012-13 season, the Bucknell women’s tennis team brings back a squad of underclassmen who have learned the ropes from last year’s tie for third place with Colgate in the Patriot League standings. With a roster of 10 underclassmen, the Bison will turn to senior Daria Tuzhikova and junior captains Elena Vidrascu and Elizabeth Morgan to lead the way and make the push back into the top of the league standings.

Tuzhikova heads into her final season with a 54-68 overall career record. The senior currently ranks No. 30 on Bucknell’s all-time wins list and needs just six more victories to move into the top 25.  The majority of Tuzhikova’s wins come from her strong doubles play as she has accumulated a record of 39-42 during her first three years. Tuzhikova, who missed the 2011 fall season while studying abroad in France, looks to build her resume in the fall tournaments before rolling into the prime spring schedule.

Vidrascu finished last season with a 12-15 singles record, tying her for the most on the team with former teammate Dumitrita Iepuras with the majority of her play coming in the No. 2 and No. 3 flights. Vidrascu is five singles, two doubles and seven combined wins from cracking into the top 25 in each category. With two years of tennis behind her, Vidrascu’s maturity will play a large role in captaining the team through tough mental on-court situations.

With the likes of Iepuras, Lauren Lucido and Tania Varela all graduating over the past three seasons, the team looks to fill those voids with the youthful talent that has arrived on campus. The three have left big shoes to fill after combining for 435 career wins.

The women’s rookie class will challenge the sophomores throughout the season looking to earn themselves a role in the top six on the team. The young Bison look to prepare themselves for a demanding season in which they are much more experienced physically and mentally from just a year ago.

“The returning ladies learned a great deal about what the transition from junior tennis to college tennis and worked really hard over the summer,” said head coach Rebecca Helt, who is entering her 16th season as the women’s head coach. “All those girls are back ready to apply that now and take the next step up.”

Several returning sophomores look to continue the impressive starts to their careers. Jen Bush and Alyssa McAndrew had stout performances last fall, winning doubles at the Bucknell Invitational which turned out to be the team’s only tournament title. Lydia Colvin began her freshman campaign with a slow start during the fall of 2011, but cemented her place in the singles dual matches with a 7-14 record during the spring.

The Patriot League has been dominated by the U.S. Naval and Military academies over the past few seasons, but Helt believes the team is poised to make another run into the top half of the Patriot League standings.

“We fought hard toward the end of the season to come back and tie for third with Colgate,” said Helt. “This year I think we will get back up there even though the academies will have a bit of an edge, but we will be back up there in the top half.”

This is the second straight year that the women’s squad will have a team dominated by underclassmen. The fall tournaments will be a critical time for the first- and second-year players to continue to perfect their form and gain valuable experience before a spring season that boasts some very strong teams. The team welcomes incoming players in Maria Cioffi, Ellie Fraser, Sam Madnik and Stephanie Pino. This group of incoming rookies has combined to win many accolades in the junior tennis and high school ranks, which include two All-State recipients, one doubles state champion and nine league or district championships.

Cioffi makes a short journey from her hometown of Williamsport, Pa., to Bucknell.  She joins the Bison after a successful career playing for South Williamsport High School where she was an All-State tennis player finishing fourth in the boys’ state tournament, making her the first female to win a round at the Pennsylvania state championship while playing for a boys’ team.

One of Helt’s goals is to focus on building the team’s mental toughness for the grind of the spring season. This will come through setting the tone in doubles play and trying to earn that first team point. She knows that this year will be another challenge for the women’s side but is eager to see them progress as a unit throughout the season.

After the first of the fall action at the Bucknell Quad starting Sept. 7, and the team’s first Patriot League action is set to begin in the spring on March 23, 2013 against Patriot League Championship runner-up Navy in Annapolis, Md.