2005 Husky Women's Tennis Season Preview
Jan. 13, 2005
Returning four starters from last year's squad that advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight, the Washington women's tennis team looks to be in fine shape to maintain its standing as one of the top-10 teams in the nation when the 2005 season unfolds in January.
Senior Dea Sumantri, a two-time All-American, knows what it takes to compete with the country's best. Sumantri, who rotated with Claire Carter at No. 1 singles last year, helped the Huskies maintain no less than a Top-10 ranking in 2004. In fact, the Huskies ranked as high as fourth last season, its highest in school history.
Joining Sumantri will be junior Dinka Hadzic, sophomore Saskia Nauenberg and senior Mugette Ahn - three players who solidified the singles lineup for a Husky team that made its eighth straight postseason appearance last year.
Despite Washington's recent success, UW head coach Patty McCain does not have all the answers when she looks at her young 2005 squad. Only three players on the Husky roster have more than two years of collegiate tennis experience. The team also features four freshmen, two sophomores and three upperclassmen in their second seasons in the program.
Missing from last year's lineup will be graduated seniors Claire Carter and Erin Hoe, a pair of players who carried the Huskies on their shoulders last season, taking them to the Elite Eight and matching UW's best NCAA finish since 2001 - their freshman season.
Carter and Hoe, who rank No. 2 and No. 3 respectively on UW's career singles wins list, will certainly be missed for their leadership both on and off the court.
But McCain has been here before. Her 2004 squad began its season missing six seniors - including three starters - from the previous year. Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But all McCain did was engineer her young team into a squad in contention for a national championship - falling one match shy of an NCAA semifinal. For that she was named ITA National Coach of the Year.
'We're very young this year,' McCain said. 'It will be interesting to see what the freshmen are capable of right out of the chute.'
According to the Husky head coach, it will take a few dual matches to get an idea for how her lineup will play out and what it will take for Washington to win. 'But I think as always, we have a lot of talented players and a lot of potential,' she said. 'The thing that made us so good last year was the girls were just very, very tough. We just never gave an inch and that was something that was very special last year. I don't know if we can recreate that again. We have a great group of girls and you just never really know. They're starting to gel now as a team and that's probably the most important thing at this point in the year.'
With this year's squad, McCain has the luxury of two important factors on any successful team: chemistry and depth. Despite the fact that players come from different countries and different backgrounds, the Husky squad has a tradition for having a tight knit bond - for celebrating their diversity.
'Tennis is such an individual sport that whenever you have a cohesive unit like that, going down the stretch into a competitive event like the NCAA's, you're so much better off. When you've got a kid out there playing last and they're looking around and every single person is sincerely pulling for them as hard as they can,' McCain said. 'A lot of teams don't have that. I can tell you these girls go shoulder to shoulder. They care very much about each other.'
Washington has 12 players on its 2005 roster and McCain will be relying on players other than Sumantri to shoulder the load. 'We've got a really deep team this year,' McCain said. 'We've got a strong cast of characters. I think that the girls have been working really hard and training really hard. Time will tell, but I don't think we're going to be in a situation where our wins or losses are going to completely depend on Dea's performance. It shouldn't end up that way.'
Another added bonus is the addition of former Husky Darija Klaic as the new assistant coach. Klaic, a 2003 graduate, was a team manager and Nordstrom Tennis Center assistant facility manager last year until being named assistant just prior to the start of the NCAA Championships. Klaic is one of the top doubles players to wear the purple and gold. A two-time All-American, Klaic ranks second on UW's career doubles list with 84 wins. She had a long and successful career with Claire Carter.
'I'm absolutely thrilled to be able to hire Darjia,' McCain said. 'I'm just thrilled that we can continue the Husky tradition and she can actually be able to pass down a lot of things that she learned based on her experience here. She knows the ins and outs of student life here and she can really tell them and walk them through it. Darija was also hired for her degree in economics and her business savy. She will head the majority of our administrative duties.'
One question that does not need to be answered is who will be UW's No. 1 singles player. Dea Sumantri will take over that spot after rotating at No. 1 with Claire Carter last season. Sumantri ended the year with a No. 17 singles ranking and a No. 7 doubles ranking with Carter. She amassed an incredible 21-4 dual singles record, finishing 28-10 overall. She became the first Husky woman to earn All-America honors in both singles and doubles in a single season.
'Dea's a superstar in every sense of the word,' McCain said. 'She's very professional about her business and works very hard. She's very serious, she's very passionate and always wants to improve, even when she's hit the highest level. She is a great role model for everyone around her because even though she's nationally ranked, she's still out there at the end of the day working just as hard, if not harder, than everyone else. That's the standard she sets and it really pushes everyone to the next level.'
Sumantri and junior Dinka Hadzic are the Husky co-captains, and will be looked upon to be team leaders. Hadzic should fill the No. 2 singles spot after playing last year at No. 4. She went 17-10 in dual action, and 26-16 overall. Hadzic was Washington's comeback kid last year - pulling out many come-from-behind wins, including the clinching match in UW's 4-3 win over Oregon in the 2004 regional final.
'Dinka is a warrior,' McCain said. 'She's extremely tough. She has completely stepped up to a new level and it's exciting to see how much farther she's going to take it this year. She'll probably be stepping into a higher role and now she's ready to take that challenge on.'
UW's third top returner is sophomore Saskia Nauenberg who is coming off a rookie campaign that saw her go 16-11 at No. 5 singles, 24-15 overall. Despite being in just her second year in the program, McCain will be looking for her to move her game to the next level as well.
'Saskia came up with some huge wins for us last year,' McCain said. 'She's just going to continue to develop and really she's just scratching the surface of what she's capable of.'
Senior Mugette Ahn is another player who will be vying for a spot in the lineup. In her first year with the team last season, Ahn was plagued by injuries but picked up some big wins for the Huskies late in the season. She went 7-1 at No. 6 singles.
'Mugette is really tough,' McCain said. 'She just continues to get better and better every day, and in my opinion she looks like she has reestablished her love for the game which is a whole new element than we saw a lot of last year. It will be a lot of fun to see her play.'
The remaining Husky returners are junior Stephanie Svanfeldt, sophomore Monika Kolbovic, and seniors Megan Flynn and Cheryl Naruse. Svanfeldt is the only one of the quartet with more than one year of collegiate tennis experience under her belt.
Svanfeldt and Kolbovic saw time at No. 6 singles during Ahn's absence. Svanfeldt went 5-8 in dual play, while Kolbovic was 0-3. Flynn and Naruse didn't see dual action last season, but got some matches in tournament play.
Washington has four freshmen on its roster including local star Allison Rainey (Mercer Island, Wash.), Tara Simpson (Vancouver, B.C.), Cassy Fabiani (Tiburon, Calif.) and Keri Sugiyama (Honolulu, Hawaii). 'I'm really happy with our freshman class,' McCain said. 'We've got a good mix of kids.' Rainey, Simpson and Fabiani should be in contention for a starting spot in the dual lineup.
McCain is still working on the best combination of doubles duos that will take the courts. Sumantri only played with Carter last year at No. 1, while three different combos played at No. 2 and six different pairs played at No. 3. Doubles was not a strong suit for Washington last year. Carter and Sumantri went 16-9 in dual action, while the other two spots went a combined 15-34. Fortunately, UW's singles lineup was tough as nails.
'Before last year I would have said doubles play was immensely important,' McCain said. 'Now I'm not so sure. I think it's always very big, it gives you that breathing room if you can get the doubles point. We work pretty hard on doubles skills. I'm kind of a doubles fanatic about making them learn the game properly - maybe to their detriment. It takes us a little longer to develop our doubles players. What I'm asking them to do is master high level strategies and skills. So it does take them a couple of years to really implement it.'
Whether it is non-conference or conference matches, the Huskies have a formidable schedule awaiting them when dual play opens Jan. 21 at Utah State. The Huskies face BYU Jan. 22, before making their home debut versus Gonzaga Jan. 28.
Washington will face a big test early, being selected to participate in the National Team Indoor Championships (Feb. 3-6) for the second-straight year. Last year, UW made a strong showing defeating No. 23 Tennessee, and No. 6 Vanderbilt before falling to No. 2 Stanford in the semis.
'I think we've got some good matches there,' McCain said. 'We have some good tester matches early in the year. Going to Provo will give us a chance to be under fire early on. They are a tough team. We have a tough non-conference schedule. If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best.'
Also on the non-conference docket will be matches at home versus Illinois and Tulane, and road matches at San Diego State and University of San Diego. Washington's non-conference schedule should prepare the Huskies for a formidable Pac-10 lineup, arguably the toughest tennis conference in the nation.
'The Pac-10 is going to be really tough,' McCain said. 'Stanford is probably the toughest. They reload with tough people every year. For everyone else, it all depends on who's healthy and who's playing well, who gels as a team.'
And for the Huskies, those components already appear to be in place for the 2005 season.
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