COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The 13th-ranked Texas A&M women's tennis team opens its 2013 dual season this weekend as the Aggies play host to No. 54 North Texas, No. 30 Arizona and No. 41 Minnesota in the ITA Kick-Off Weekend, Saturday and Sunday, at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center.
Each team will play two matches over the two-day tournament, with the undefeated team earning a coveted invitation to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships, Feb. 8-11, in Charlottesville, Va.
The Aggies and North Texas take to the courts Saturday at 2 p.m. in what will be both teams' season opener. The match follows a 10 a.m. contest between Arizona and Minnesota in what will be a rematch of last year's NCAA first-round contest won by the Wildcats.
The consolation match will be Sunday at 10 a.m., followed by the championship match at 2 p.m.
"This weekend we will face two nationally ranked teams in an effort to qualify for the National Team Indoors," said Howard Joffe, who is entering his second season as head coach of the Aggies. "The challenges to our team will be great, but the opportunity is even greater. And along those lines, I expect to see some tough competition and passionate play from the 2013 installment of our Aggie women's tennis team."
This is the fifth year for the ITA Kick-Off event in which 60 schools will be competing across the country for the 15 vacant spots at the National Team Indoor Championship, to which host Virginia receives an automatic invitation. The 15 universities hosting ITA Kick-Off Weekend sites were designated as hosts in order of their year-end 2012 ranking. The other 45 teams participated in a draft in June to select where they would compete in the 2013 Kick-Off Weekend, with the order of the draft determined by each teams' 2012 final ranking.
A&M, which enters the season with its highest ranking since also reaching the No. 13 position on May 4, 2004, returns three letterwinners from last year's team that went 19-6 and ranked No. 17 in the final rankings after reaching the NCAA second round. The Aggies also feature five talented newcomers.
Senior All-American Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar, who last year became only the second player in A&M history to reach the quarterfinals at the NCAA Singles Championship, leads the Aggies as her No. 3 preseason singles ranking is the highest in school history and is the highest among all players participating in this year's ITA Kick-Off Weekend. From Campo de Criptana, Spain, Sanchez-Quintanar is 19-3 overall in 2012-13, including 11-1 against ranked opponents.
Meanwhile, Cristina Stancu, a junior transfer from Maryland who is ranked No. 45 in singles, and freshman Stefani Hristov are 9-3 and enter the spring season No. 7 in doubles, marking the highest ranked doubles tandem in A&M history.
Wen Sun, an All-Big 12 selection in both singles and doubles last year, returns for her senior season and joins Sanchez-Quintanar and Stancu in the singles rankings at No. 82. Nazari Urbina, A&M's first-ever three-time participant in the NCAA Singles Championship, also returns for her senior season and is 10th in the A&M record books with 86 career singles victories.
Freshman Anna Mamalat also will be competing for the Aggies, as will Ines and Paula Deheza, twins who joined the team earlier this month and made their A&M debut last weekend at the Miami Spring Invite.
Although Arizona, Minnesota and North Texas do not have any nationally ranked players in singles or doubles, all three teams competed in the NCAA tournament last year.
North Texas sixth-year head coach Sujay Lama returns five members from the 2012 squad that won the Sun Belt Conference Championship, appeared in the NCAA tournament for the second time in school history and finished 18-7, marking the most wins since the 1985 season.
Arizona returns four players from last year's team that went 16-9 and advanced to the NCAA second round. Vicky Maes, in her 12th season as Arizona's head coach, has the Wildcats off to a 2-0 start in 2013, having defeated both Northern Arizona and UC Davis by identical 6-1 scores last week in Tucson.
Minnesota also is off to a 2-0 start in 2013 after defeating Marquette, 5-2, and Montana, 4-3, last week in a doubleheader. First-year head coach Chuck Merzbacher welcomes nine returning letterwinners from last year's team that went 16-9 and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003.
In the all-time series records, Texas A&M has won the last 13 meetings and is 13-2 against North Texas. The teams last met Feb. 3, 1998, when the Aggies completed their fourth consecutive shutout against the Mean Green.
Arizona owns a 3-0 record in the all-time series against the Aggies, including a 5-2 victory in the most recent meeting on March 1, 2002, in College Station. A&M and Minnesota have never met.
Free live video and scoring of all the matches at the Mitchell Tennis Center will be available at AggieAthletics.com. Fans also can keep up to date with the A&M women's tennis team on Twitter by following @AggieWTEN or on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/pages/Aggie-Womens-Tennis/143874782434654