Early Thursday morning, the women’s tennis team saddled up and headed out to the Lone Star State, where it will compete against high-caliber teams in a tournament it has never entered before.

The Lady Bulldogs begin play today at the Rice Tennis Classic in Houston, Texas. Eight teams will compete, including Louisiana State, which hails from the South Eastern Conference, the toughest women’s tennis conference in the country. Other schools in the Rice tournament include Southern Methodist University, University of Houston, Arkansas State, University of Texas at San Antonio, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and host Rice.

In addition to facing some of the top teams in the nation, the Bulldogs are also playing to establish their individual rankings in their own lineup.

“We’ll be playing a lot of new teams and seeing different styles of play,” captain Karlyn Martin ’04 said. “Our level of competition will be a good measure of what areas we need to improve.”

The 2003 fall schedule for women’s tennis is notably different from last year’s.

This fall, the Bulldogs will skip the ECAC championships and University of Pennsylvania’s Cissie Leary tournament, as the Elis seek out teams that Yale would not normally see during the fall season.

“We proved ourselves last year, and this year we’re traveling a lot more,” team member Reshmi Srinath ’05 said.

With three flights of singles and two of doubles, most of the women will be playing both singles and doubles at Rice. Injuries have reduced the roster to seven traveling players instead of the usual eight, meaning one player will only be competing in singles.

“All the flights will be challenging, and will offer much stiffer competition [than the Yale Invitational last weekend],” head coach Chad Skorupka said.

After two weeks of practice since their last tournament, the players head into the competition feeling prepared.

“We’re all pretty competitive,” said Martin. “There isn’t one person who is a lot better than everyone else, so we all push each other in practice.”

Both Martin and Skorupka noted that most of the players are currently at an equal level of play, and Skorupka said he’s looking for someone to rise to the top.

“We’ll see after this fall who can better handle playing number one versus number six,” said Skorupka. “The coaching staff will be looking for someone who can break out at Rice.”

The players arrived in Texas yesterday. Match play will begin today and end Sunday, and the Lady Bulldogs will be back in New Haven late Sunday night.