From The Daily: Back To Her Roots

May 12, 2010

By Taylor Soper
The UW Daily

It could be the fact that her team might face No. 3 Florida in the second round of the NCAA Championships. Or it could be that the Washington women's tennis team has to travel nearly 3,000 miles to begin postseason play.

But if there's one thing about playing all the way at the University of Florida that has head coach Jill Hulquist worried, it's her trendy 1980's mullet she rocked as a four-time All-American at the University of Florida.

'I just keep thinking of some of the pictures that the girls are going to see, and the bad haircuts,' Hultquist laughed. 'That is what I really keep stressing about.'

Mullets and bad haircuts aside, Hultquist is happy to be returning to her alma mater. It's been 11 years since the former Gator was last in Gainesville, Fla., and 23 years since she played a match in a Florida uniform.

This time, she'll be returning as a head coach, hoping to bring her Huskies back to the Sweet Sixteen for the second consecutive year. The No. 29 Huskies travel to Florida today in preparation for their first-round match against No. 40 Utah on Friday.

If they win Friday, they'll most likely face the third-ranked Gators, who are hosting the NCAA Regional. Florida faces South Carolina State on Friday, and should be favored to get past the unranked Bulldogs.

If the Huskies do end up playing Florida, it won't be the first time Hultquist has faced her former team as a coach. In 2001, she served as interim head coach for the Huskies during the NCAA Tournament after then-head coach Patty McCain took maternity leave.

She guided that team to a Sweet Sixteen win over No. 5 Tennessee, as the Huskies advanced to the Elite Eight to face Florida. It wasn't just another match for Hultquist, especially considering who was coaching across the courts for the Gators: Andy Brandi, who coached Hultquist during her playing years.

That set up an unlikely scenario, with a former player coaching against a former coach. Hultquist called it 'weird,' also adding that this time around, it shouldn't be such an odd situation. She thinks her name won't even resonate with the current Gator players.

'I'm sure that they know and have been talking about me coming back,' Hultquist said of the Gator players. 'But there's no response there at all. Those girls are probably saying, `whatever.''

As for the photos featuring the 22-year-old Hultquist with her trendy, retro-80's hairstyles at the Florida Hall of Fame? Her players aren't saying 'whatever' to that.

'We're definitely going to run by the Hall of Fame, for sure,' sophomore Denise Dy said. 'I think that will be the number-one spot, to see how Jill dressed back in the day.'

NOTHING BUT EXCITEMENT

If there's someone who is familiar with facing alma maters, look no further than assistant coach Damon Coupe. The third-year assistant coach, who was named the 2009 Assistant Coach of the Year, was a Sacramento State Hornet in his playing days. The Hornets are now a regular opponent for the Huskies, and Coupe knows all too well what it's like to coach against your former team.

'You can play it off, and you want to play it off because you don't want it to affect anything, but there are extra emotions,' Coupe said. 'You always want to beat your old team, that's just in any sport.'

Coupe says the emotions can be used as positive fuel, but can also hinder your ability to coach. It's all about keeping the emotions in check.

'If a call goes against you, you maybe explode a little more than you should,' Coupe said. 'Or maybe you get a little more excited sometimes. You get a little more positive emotion, which is great, but the negative emotions are what you have to monitor there.'

Hultquist admits she still roots for the Gators, and hopes that her Huskies can someday be ranked in the top 10 like Florida. While a Gator, Hultquist racked up four All American honors for a Florida team that was ranked in the top 20.

But if the two teams do end up facing each other this Saturday, UW fans shouldn't worry about who's No. 1 for Hultquist.

'I think you always have a soft spot for the team you play for,' said Hultquist, who actually got her degree at the UW in 2000. 'But the Huskies are first in my book, always.'

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