Cougar Tennis 2007 Season Outlook
Jan. 17, 2007
Pullman, Wash. - Following a 2006 campaign in which the Cougars posted their highest victory total in 10 years, optimism runs high for the 2007 Washington State tennis team. Last season WSU compiled a 14-12 record, a five-win improvement over the previous season, marking the third-largest single-season win improvement over the last 28 years.
Entering her fourth year as the Cougars head coach, Lisa Hart has the program moving in the right direction. Having posted back-to-back seasons of at least a four-win improvement over the previous year, Hart is ready for the next step, an appearance at the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2002 season.
'Our expectations are pretty simple,' said Hart. 'Give our best effort on the court and in the classroom and secure a bid to the NCAA Tournament.'
Last season's success came not in leaps and bounds, but through steady development throughout the season. This year's squad looks to make similar progress in order to be in a position to challenge their toughest competition in their dual match season.
'Last year was important for our players to see how much they could (and did) improve from the start of the season to the end,' said Hart. 'Or program and our players are now in a position to realize that we are capable, with the appropriate level of commitment, to attain all of our individual and team goals.'
WSU returns the majority of last year's squad with seven letterwinners along with two freshmen comprising the Cougar roster. Junior Ekaterina Burduli and seniors Amy Toth and Marjolein van de Ven return to help lead the Cougars. The trio gives the Cougars experience, strength and leadership for the program, qualities that will benefit WSU throughout the season.
Burduli, a Tel Aviv, Israel native, capped her 2006 season with a trip to the NCAA Championships and a 25-15 record. Burduli was the first Cougar to reach the NCAA Singles tournament since Erica Perkins did so in 2002. Her 25 wins tied her for third place on the WSU single-season victory list. She defeated five nationally-ranked players last year and earned a No. 47 preseason ranking for the 2007 season.
This past fall Burduli captured the singles title at the BYU Invitational and advanced to the Round of 16 at the ITA Northwest Regional.
'Eka is one of the most determined and competitive players I have ever coached,' said Hart. 'When she has her mind set that she's going to win, she finds a way to win. She's a powerful player and she has developed into a great leader and a great role model for the others players on the team.'
Burduli was paired mostly with senior Marjolein van de Ven in doubles play. Together, the two posted a win percentage of 0.833, third on WSU's single season doubles win percentage list.
van de Ven, a native of Delft, The Netherlands, along with Toth is one of two seniors on the squad. Last season van de Ven posted a 24-16 dual match record, tying her for fifth on the WSU single-season victory list. Her junior campaign was highlighted by a win over then-No. 47 Christina Visico of California at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Northwest Regional.
'Marjolein is like the Energizer bunny,' said Hart. 'She can stay out there for five hours and outlast any opponent. She's a great fighter on the court.'
Toth enters her final season of her Cougar career, one that has seen improvement each season. After winning 13 matches as a freshman, she improved to 22 as a sophomore and 23 last season, mainly from the No. 2 position. Her 62 career victories, including four this past fall, places her two shy of a spot on theCougar Top 10 list.
'She had a break out year last year,' said Hart of Toth. 'She played high in the lineup for us and won a lot of matches. She's starting to take more chances on the court and I think all the experience she has now will pay off in the spring.'
Junior returnees Kara Konomos and Aleksandra Stefanova ('Alex') will provide depth to the Cougar lineup. Konomos' overall attitude, combined with consistency in ground strokes and her serve, make her one of the team leaders. Stefanova posted match-winning victories on two occasions last season and reached the finals of the BYU Invitational in September. Her powerful serve and agility at the net make Stefanova a key to Cougar victories in 2007.
'Kara is a great leader off and on the court,' said Hart. 'Her work ethic is incredible and that absolutely rubs off on everybody else. The strides Alex has made have been unbelievable. She's got a great work ethic. She's the one that shows up early and stays late.'
A pair of sophomores who look to play a big role for the Cougars this season are Aleksandra Cekic ('Sasha') and Bianca Selaru. Cekic, from London, Ontario, Canada, played in the middle of the Cougar lineup last season, finding her best success at the No. 5 spot where she went 4-3. A more consistent player with a year of college experience, Cekic is primed for a big season.
'Sasha has made huge improvements from her freshman year,' said Hart. 'She can play at an extremely high level and we worked all fall on her performing at that level on a more consistent basis.'
Though sidelined by injury for the fall tournaments, Selaru, from Zalau, Romania, will be ready to contribute when the season beings. Last year Selaru compiled a team-best 66.7 percent singles winning percentage and posted singles victories over Washington and Oregon.
'She's an awesome competitor,' said Hart. 'When it comes to game day, she's ready to go and I think that rubs off on the team. We're looking forward to getting her back on the court competing for the Cougs.'
After redshirting her first season in Pullman, freshman Anastesia Opata looks to make an impact for the Cougars as she competes for a spot in the lineup. A baseline player with great agility, Opata can recover quickly and track down every ball sent her way.
'Anastesia has been out of competitive tennis for a couple of years so this past fall has been critical to get her as many matches as possible,' said Hart. 'We have spent a lot of time getting her back on the court in as many match-like situations as possible. She is an extremely quick player who covers a lot of ground and who has the potential to be a solid doubles player.'
The lone true freshman to appear on the Cougar roster is Round Rock, Texas native Ashley Spicer. She competed primarily in the Intercollegiate Tennis Federation's junior circuit during her prep career but wasted no time making an adjustment to college tennis as she reached the third round of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Northwest Regional last fall.
'Ashley is going to have a great career as a Cougar,' said Hart. 'She has every shot in the book and just needs to acclimate herself to college tennis. With every match she plays, she is getting better at making that transition. She has unlimited potential and it will be exciting to see her grow as a player.'
The Cougars' first challenge will be the difficult schedule set before them. In addition to the always difficult Pacific-10 slate, the Cougars face a non-conference schedule of six nationally ranked teams at the end of the 2006 season. And, true to the Pac-10's slogan 'A Conference of Champions,' WSU's conference schedule includes four teams ranked in the top-20 last year, including Stanford, which finished the 2006 season with its third-straight NCAA title.
'Without a doubt, the Pac-10 is the best tennis conference in the country,' said Hart. 'Each team in the Pac-10 Conference competes for the national championship every year. If you're going to play, you might as well play with the best.'
With such a tough schedule ahead of them, the Cougars are eager to welcome visiting teams to the recently renovated Hollingbery Fieldhouse on the WSU campus for all home tennis matches this season. The venue features four courts resurfaced with the PlexiPave Surface system and upgraded lighting that meets NCAA competition standards.
In the spring of 2007, the Cougars new outdoor facility will be completed, featuring 12 outdoor lighted courts along with a clubhouse. The facility replaces the Stadium Way Tennis Center, which had been home to Cougar tennis for over 30 years.
'Our new indoor and outdoor facilities have been huge for our program,' said Hart. The support we have received from our athletic administration and the supporters of our program have been astounding. We hope to build upon the successes we have had and make 2007 the best year yet in Cougar Tennis History!