MORAGA, Calif. -- Without question, the Saint Mary's men's tennis team finished its fall campaign with much to look forward to.
Now, the challenge for the Gaels shifts to the team dynamic as the spring season is set to kick off Friday against a Fresno State team ranked No. 50 in the country in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings.
"We'll be tested right away," Saint Mary's coach Michael Wayman said. "If we can make it through the first few weeks strong, we will stand a good chance to get results throughout the season."
Saint Mary's began the fall with a different looking team than a year ago, welcoming five new faces to the Korth Tennis Complex.
Those new faces ultimately proved more than capable of elevating the Gaels level of play. Jesse Kiuru, a transfer from Maryland, and Illinois State transfer Tuomas Manner combined with returning team captain Joakim Norstrom to take Saint Mary's places it had never been before.
For Kiuru and Norstrom, success came quickly in doubles. They reached the finals of the Aggie Invitational, beating the No. 1 seeds from Stanford.
At the ITA Northwest Regional held in Moraga, they knocked off the top-seeded team from Oregon en route to the finals. The success resulted in Kiuru and Norstrom being named the West Coast Conference Doubles Team of the Month in October.
Both Kiuru and Norstrom had strong singles campaigns as well, but it was Manner who took home WCC Singles Player of the Month. The lefty from Finland reached the semifinals of the ITA Northwest Regional, backing up a run to the quarterfinals at the Aggie Invitational.
Those individual results have firmly established the Gaels' Scandanavian trio at the top of the team pyramid to start, and the rankings back that up.
The most recent ITA rankings have the duo of Kiuru and Norstrom ranked second in the Northwest region. Kiuru is ranked No. 7 in the region in singles, and Manner is No. 16.
For Saint Mary's to succed, however, the Gaels will need much more than three players. To that end, Wayman speaks highly of his entire roster, praising the group's upside and their potential to keep getting better and better.
Norstrom leads a group of returners that includes junior Seif El Sherbini and sophomore Samuel Bloore. Three freshmen join the fray as well, with Thomas Hunt, James Markiewicz and Alec Wagner all looking to make significant contributions.
"This team has great chemistry. They like being around each other and working together," Wayman said. "Results will either come or not, but it won't be for lack of trying with this group. Their work ethic is fantastic. "
That the team will be pulling the same direction is important, considering there won't be any shortage of tests along the way. An always tough WCC slate awaits, as well as trips to No. 3 UCLA and No. 10 Stanford.
"The key will be staying healthy," Wayman said. "If we can keep good health throughout the team and continue to improve, I think we can be very successful this season."