Tennis Tag Team
June 4, 2009
By Taylor Soper
Only four years ago, the women's tennis program hit one of its lowest points in history. It was Jill Hultquist's first year as head coach, and the team managed to win just three matches as it struggled through injuries, inconsistency and even commitment issues.
Today, Hultquist and assistant coach Damon Coupe have turned the UW women's tennis program completely around. This year, the No. 32 Huskies won 18 matches and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in history when they defeated No. 7 USC in the NCAA championships to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004.
'Well, I'm a lot happier of a person now, that's for sure,' said Hultquist, the 2009 Northwest Regional Head Coach of the Year. 'It's always hard when you take over a program, and there is a lot of pressure to turn the program around. As a coach, this year was a confidence-builder for me to know that, when working as a team, we can have a great season.'
Hultquist took over a program in 2004 that still had most of former coach Patty McCain's players, and during the 2006-2007 season, the Huskies won a measly five matches, losing 16. Hultquist's squad had players who, simply put, weren't committed.
'Everybody was not doing their job,' said junior Lauren Summers. 'Players were trying to get out of stuff, and they weren't putting tennis first.'
That's when Hultquist began to change the direction of the program.
'I think Jill started the process when she came in,' said junior Joyce Ardies. 'She made some hard decisions and started moving the team forward. But with Damon, we felt a huge new addition was added to the team. He was so involved in everything.'
What many Husky fans may not know is the role Coupe has played in the turnaround of the program. Coupe is a former Sacramento State player and made his way to the UW from Cal, where he was an assistant coach for the Bears. Before Cal, he headed the women's tennis program at Santa Clara, where he guided the Broncos to their first national ranking in school history.
'I think we trusted Damon when he first came in because he had coached at Cal, and we saw what Cal could do,' Summers said. 'He exhibited a leadership role right away and was really excited. We set little goals for our team, and he told us to believe that we can reach those goals. As we reached each goal, we gained more trust toward him.'
Coupe's success at the UW earned him the National Assistant Coach of the Year award, sharing the honor with Florida State's Oliver Foreman.
Coupe brought a no-nonsense, disciplined mentality to the program. Combined with Hultquist, they make a coaching tag team to envy.
'Working with Jill has just been absolutely fantastic,' Coupe said. 'It couldn't be a better match. I feel like there's sort of a good-cop, bad-cop going on, where sometimes I have to drop the hammer. We work together in our philosophies and strategies about the game. We are on the same lines with almost everything.'
Summers agreed and noted that the two coaches balance being strict and being supportive to create a positive atmosphere.
'They find the right times to make us work really hard and push us,' Summers said. 'And they find other times to talk with us and maybe let us have a little break. I think they both work together really well.'
Moreover, their dedication and passion for the team has convinced the players that their coaches are working just as hard off the court as on the court.
'Their dedication is what makes them special,' said freshman Denise Dy. 'We know that they are putting their hearts out to all of us, and it shows us that we can put our hearts out to them.'
Both coaches appreciate the hard work their players have put in during the past season and off season. The players' hard work, combined with a new team-first mentality, has led to better team chemistry and a winning record. The Huskies are now receiving recognition from other top tennis programs.
'It was great to hear the USC coach talk about how strong we were as a team even before we played them,' Coupe said. 'Even the UCLA coach told us that we were really strong this year. Coming from the tougher years in the past, that's just a thrill for us to know that these teams are respecting us.'
But more than anything, both coaches feel proud of how far the veterans and the program have come since those gloomy days four years ago.
'I think for Joyce [Ardies], [Aleksandra Malovic] and Lauren [Summers], it's really coming full circle for them,' Coupe said as he reflected on the team's magical win against No. 7 USC, which had been unbeaten at home the entire season. 'To have the girls that have been around for a long time get to that and really feel it, I'm just so happy for them that in their college careers they get that success.'