Women's Tennis Season Preview
Jan. 7, 2012
SEATTLE - The 2012 women's tennis season could be considered "phase three" for Head Coach Jill Hultquist as she heads into her seventh season. The first arduous step was rebuilding the team in 2006 and 2007 when wins and a full roster were hard to come by. With an influx of talent, the second phase has seen the Huskies advance to four consecutive NCAA Championships, advancing at least to the second round in the past three years.
But now the turnover is complete, as every member of that first team to return UW to postseason play--including two-time All-American Venise Chan--has now graduated. That means the four returners have known nothing but NCAA expectations, and those expactations will not change, with four new freshman on the roster that could provide a foundation for the program as it chases further tourney bids and higher rankings.
If one thing is certain, "This upcoming season is going to be full of surprises," says Hultquist, referring to all the new faces. "I think that each new girl is going to add a lot to our team."
But the newcomers will have as good a leader as they could hope for in senior Denise Dy, who gives Hultquist a sure thing to anchor the young lineup. Dy has done everything short of a national title over the past three seasons, already establishing herself as one of the greatest Huskies in history. In November she advanced to the semifinals of the ITA National Indoor Championships for the second time, her third trip to a national semifinal, and with 89 singles wins she already ranks fourth in school history.
An All-American three times over, "Denise is going to be the rock of the team," says Hultquist. Dy also won a gold medal over the summer in the Southeast Asian Games, winning in mixed doubles for the Philippines. When a player has accomplished as much as Dy, the only goals left are lofty ones. With deep tourney runs at the two national fall tournaments, the only thing missing from her résumé is a memorable run in the NCAA singles tourney. She and Venise Chan made the NCAA doubles quarterfinals last year, but Dy was upset in the second round in singles.
"She is always driven, I'm sure she wants to have a great NCAA singles run," says Hultquist. "I have always believed that she can be a semifinalist or more and she has proven it by her All-American performances, and her National Indoor performances. But when she gets to the NCAA it has just been a struggle for her. If there was a goal for me personally, it would be for Denise to have a great NCAA showing."
Another senior looking to help lead UW to the tourney for the fourth time in her career is Samantha Smith. The four-year starter needs just twelve more wins to break into the Husky career top-10 list. Smith has come through with several huge wins during her career, and will be looked to for some more this season playing up near the top of the lineup.
"Samantha has come a long was since her freshman year," says Hultquist. "She has matured a lot. I have been so fortunate to have seniors who still want to work on their game and get better. Samantha has a great attitude about always improving. I think this year she is going to have a lot of responsibility."
"You may not always be the best player, but if you fight harder for every point then you can win a lot of matches. And that is what Samantha does, she grinds them out."
Also returning are second year players Andjela Nemcevic and Adrijana Pavlovic. Nemcevic had a promising freshman season cut short by a knee injury, but the Belgrade native is fully recovered and brings a hard-hitting baseline game and fighting spirit to every match. Pavlovic is a senior after transferring to Washington last year from the community college ranks. The native German has worked hard on her game to adjust to the Pac-12 level and will look to have an impact in singles and doubles.
"Andjela is full of energy, I like her game and we didn't really get to see her full potential when she got injured in February," Hultquist says, adding that Nemcevic sets up points very well and now they are working on finishing them off. "I expect a lot more from her this season, she has a lot to her game."
Pavlovic must improve some academic issues before competing this spring, but Hultquist says "we would love to see her to fight for a spot on the team. She has worked really hard this last year. She has a realistic shot when she gets her academics squared away."
The freshman group logged a lot of miles to reach their new Seattle home. Capucine Gregoire comes from Sevres, France, just outside of Paris. Julija Lukac is a native of Belgrade in Serbia, attending the same high school as sophomore Andjela Nemcevic. And Natali Coronel is up from Lomas de Zamora, a city in Argentina, a province of Buenos Aires. The shortest trip was made by the newest team member, Riko Shimizu, who just joined the Dawgs at the start of the current quarter from Ojai, California.
Gregoire, Lukac, and Coronel all got to see a good deal of action during the fall season, and each had their share of impressive wins and learning experiences. Gregoire made the final of the Bulldog Classic in UW's last fall tourney, and Coronel won the second singles flight at the same event, while Lukac had a great win over one of Washington State's top women, and got to face three top-50 opponents.
The fall was a challenge for the new freshmen on and off the court, adjusting to their new country, new classes, and top competition, but Hultquist feels they are now getting settled.
"It took them a good quarter to get adjusted," says Hultquist on the freshmen. "But I think it was a great fall for the team to gel. With Riko coming in, I know she will fit in well. I think we are going to have great team chemistry this year."
Depth was obviously the biggest problem for the Huskies last season, as injuries knocked them down to five scholarship players for a period and Hultquist had to add a pair of walk-ons mid-season. Washington had to fight and claw to pull out several 4-3 wins to stay on track for the postseason. This year, although there's no replacing Chan at No. 2, the Huskies could be stronger in the lower part of the lineup.
"This year we should have a lot of depth, and the people on the bench are just as good as whoever starts. I feel good about that so if we do have injuries then we won't have a big drop off. Any girl will be able to fill those shoes."
"Capucine," says Hultquist, "has this live arm where we don't really know where she gets her power from, but she packs a lot of fire. She is a little hot-headed, but if we can keep that under control she has a lot of potential. She is fast and fit."
Lukac had the best junior results coming in, earning a top-300 junior ITF ranking for 18-under. "We see what she is capable of. She became a little overwhelmed in the fall with the adjustment to school and it showed in her tennis. She is a lot more relaxed now; I think we will see a lot more of her now."
Coronel is a lefty that has some tricky spin to her shots that Hultquist thinks "could drive players nuts." She also has shown good doubles savvy early on, especially considering she's still just seventeen years old. "We are working on her becoming more fit and faster. But her doubles has been great. It is going to be fun to watch her grow this year."
The newest addition is Shimizu, who was rated a five-star recruit and No. 31 overall in the final class of 2011 rankings by tennisrecruiting.net.
"She was one of the top juniors in the U.S. She has had some good wins, and good success in doubles lately, so I know she will come in and help us immediately in doubles," Hultquist says.
Shimizu's arrival adds another element to the doubles lineup, which will be a focus for UW as the season kicks off. Dy has proven to be one of the best doubles players in the country, so finding the right partner for her will be a priority, then finding the right matches from there. Says Hultquist, "We have a few ideas but nothing is set in stone."
The season opening Michigan Invitational will provide a good chance to see some new doubles pairs in action. Then the Huskies open at home on Jan. 20 with a stiff challenge against Sacramento State. From there it's on to ITA National Team Indoor Qualifying, as the Huskies will look to make a second straight National Team Indoor finals. After a two-match trip to Minnesota, the women will have six straight at home, taking them into Pac-12 play. Significant non-conference matches include Texas A&M on Feb. 19, San Diego State on Feb. 24, and St. Mary's on Feb. 26. Hultquist has never shied away from tough non-conference foes: "That is what I try and do to keep our ranking up. I work really hard to make it right."
Colorado and Utah join the Pac-12 this year and will visit Seattle on April 6 and 7. Conference home matches also include Stanford on March 4, California on March 16, and Oregon on April 22.