Freshman following sis’s path

Friday, February 6, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:46 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Yelena Olshanskaya can remember growing up watching her sister Kristina Olshanskaya play tennis for Missouri.

“It was exciting,” Yelena Olshanskaya said. “When I was 12, I looked up to the 18- or 19-year-olds and now I’m one of them.”

Yelena Olshanskaya joins roommate Erika Josbena as the only newcomers to the Missouri tennis team.

The Tigers play Tulsa at 6 p.m. today at Green Tennis Center. The Golden Hurricanes (3-0) are ranked 50th in the nation.

Kristina Olshanskaya influenced her sister’s decision to attend Missouri, but Josbena has also become as close as a sister to Yelena.

They finish each other’s sentences. They share laughs. They love to eat together. They have watched “Miss Congeniality” together more times than they can count.

Josbena and Yelena Olshanskaya have meshed off the court. On the court, they fit right in with the talented Tigers. They’re intense. They’re focused. They’re smooth.

“I think with the addition of (Josbena and Olshanskaya) we’re deeper than we were a year ago,” Missouri coach Blake Starkey said. “But even with that said, that’s what I think. We haven’t gone out and proven it.”

The Tigers, who are ranked 39th in the nation, opened the season winning every match against Northern Iowa and Eastern Illinois.

“We are not battle tested,” Starkey said. “We need to be in some fights. Last weekend was a walkthrough and until we start getting into some tight matches we’re not really going to know what we’re made of.”

The Tigers’ schedule offers many opportunities to improve.

“I look at our schedule and I’m like, ‘Wow, those teams are really good,’” Starkey said. “Every match we have remaining is tough. But I think the only way we’ll be good is by playing them.”

Eight of the Tigers’ next 10 matches are against teams ranked among the nation’s top 75. Starkey said the competition will challenge his players and spur growth and development.

“All I want them to do is go out there and be excited,” Starkey said.

Although Starkey’s focus is on the present, convincing the Tigers to do the same isn’t as easy.

Last season, Missouri earned its first NCAA bid, losing in the first round to Notre Dame. With preseason All-Big 12 players Urska Juric and Katka Sevcikova, a return trip in 2004 seems likely. The Tigers are ranked 30th in the nation in doubles and have their sights on a third straight Central Region Championships title.

“Those two are putting way too much pressure on themselves,” Starkey said. “We had a great year last year but last year is over.”

Josbena said: “Individually I think every single one of us is a great player, and when you combine eight girls who are great players you’re going to make a solid team.”

In singles, Juric is ranked third in the ITA Central Region Rankings. Sevcikova is ranked 14th, Olshanskaya is 28th and junior Hana Kraftova is 30th.

“I think this is a good team, but we’ve done nothing yet and I reminded them of that,” Starkey said. “We’ve got the talent but I want to see how much fight and heart we have.”

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