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Georgia player Elena Christofi prepares to hit the ball during a tennis match against Mississippi at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex on Friday, March 22, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. Georgia is ranked second in the nation and is the last unbeaten team in the Southeastern Conference. (Photo/Gabriella Audi, www.gabbyaudi10.wixsite.com/mysite-1)

All eight of the Georgia women’s tennis players from the 2019-2020 season will be returning to the team this season. The Bulldogs are ready to get back onto the courts that they had to leave early in the spring due to concerns around COVID-19.

The last time the Bulldogs were seen competing together was on March 8, where they picked up their third straight sweep of the spring season, beating Mississippi State 4-0.

“It’s been since March since we have competed as a team, it feels like it’s been even longer than that, but I think [they] were really excited to get back together and be with each other practicing again,” head coach Jeff Wallace said.

While the team has been hard at work practicing since mid-August, newly enforced protocols have made their routine workouts unlike years prior.

Wallace said that when the athletes arrive at practice they have to get their temperature taken, they must be wearing a mask before they enter the facility, they are no longer able to access locker rooms and only certain people can touch specific balls.

“One thing that I will definitely miss is the locker room time,” said fifth year senior Elena Christofi. “I hope we are able to use it at some point because I have a lot of memories from there, so that is definitely a part that I will miss.”

Nonetheless, Georgia is set to play its first of three SEC tournaments of the fall season from Oct. 9-11 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

“You get to the point where practice is great and it’s fun and it’s exciting, but nothing’s better than competing,” Wallace said. “So we're excited about this weekend and heading over to Tuscaloosa.”

With the anticipation swarming around the team to start competing again comes an extensive list of protocols Wallce says that they need to abide by in order to ensure everyone's safety.

Every player will be tested for COVID-19 the Tuesday before and must receive a negative result in order to travel with the team for weekend tournaments this season.

Upon arriving at the tournament, team members and all personnel are required to wear masks and get their temperature taken before gaining access to the courts.

Once the athletes take the court, they are allowed to remove their mask for the duration of the match, something that senior Marta Gonzalez is thankful for because it would be very difficult to compete otherwise.

Regardless of how different this season has already presented itself to be, all of the athletes are simply grateful to have been given the opportunity to compete this year.

“Nobody’s competed for at least two months and I think everybody’s eager and hungry,” said associate head coach Drake Berstein.

Two established and impactful players that will be returning to the court this fall are Gonzalez and Elena Christofi. They are both entering their fifth year with the team after the NCAA Division I Council Coordination Committee granted spring athletes one extra year of eligibility on March 30 due to COVID-19 shortening their spring season.

For them, they both agreed that it was an easy decision to decide to play an extra year because they already planned on continuing their education at Georgia for the 2020-21 academic year.

“I’ve enjoyed the four years I’ve had,” said fifth year senior Marta Gonzalez. “I was going to have a lot of free time this year and actually wanted to come to their practices just for fun, but it ended up working out for me since I am still able to be on the team.”

While the Bulldogs are eagerly awaiting the start of their season on Friday, Wallace said that there are still many unknowns that they will undoubtedly have to face this season.

“For us it's that word flexibility and adaptability and realizing that it's like a tennis match,” Wallace said. “You're competing with somebody over on the other side and there are a lot of things out of your control and you just got to handle those things well and press on and do what you do well.”

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