Whirlwind Weekend Was One To Remember
Feb. 4, 2011
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Denise Dy looked to the heavens - and saw this was unlike of her other matches in her three years at Washington.
The Huskies' All-American was saving multiple match points Sunday in Tallahassee, Fla., on her way to a second consecutive comeback clincher, to allow UW to upset another top-16 team. As the sixth-ranked player in women's college tennis was rallying late in the day past Katie Rybakova of host No. 14 Florida State 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 and sending the Huskies into the ITA National Team Indoor Championships in Charlottesville, Va., later this month, she and her Huskies teammates looked to the sky.
"That's when we figured out our plane was flying over us and we wouldn't be flying home the same day," Dy said, laughing this week inside UW's Nordstrom Tennis Center.
"Whoo! No class (Monday)!" Dy joked.
And that was only the half of Washington's wild, wondrous tennis weekend in Florida, one that leaves the Huskies prepared for anything - beginning this weekend with dual matches at San Diego State and San Diego and then in two weeks in the national indoor finals at the University of Virginia Feb. 18-21.
"It was just drama," said Dy, who arrived at UW three years ago so talented -- but sometimes so wild that she broke racquets throwing them across courts in rages.
The uber-talented junior from San Jose, Calif., who has competed internationally in junior Grand Slam tournaments such as Wimbledon, rallied from 5-2 down in the third set to win the final five games over 8th-ranked Aeriel Ellis of Texas on Saturday to set up Sunday's showdown with FSU. Then a day later she rallied from 5-4 down in the third to beat Rybakova. That sent UW into its first national indoor finals since 2005, and to its highest national ranking in six years, at No. 15.
Dy wouldn't even have been finishing her match if UW senior Aleksandra Krsljanin, a role player and injury fill-in until this senior season, didn't finish her out-of-nowhere weekend with a second consecutive upset win.
Krsljanin, a native of Belgrade, Serbia, nicknamed "Smiley" by her teammates and coaches because of her sour court demeanor when she arrived at Washington, finished her win three courts away as Dy was early in her third set. Had "Smiley" lost, the Huskies would have lost the day to Florida State and Dy and the Dawgs would have packed up to make that flight that left without them.
"I wasn't thinking of all that. I was just focusing on my third set, trying to win," Krsljanin said. "I didn't know if they were going to stop (had I lost) or not."
That wasn't all to the wildest weekend in recent UW women's tennis history. On Saturday, the Huskies beat No. 16 Texas, which is coached by Patty Fendick-McCain, the 2004 ITA national coach of the year -- at Washington. Fendick-McCain spent eight seasons leading the Huskies before leaving for Texas following the 2005 season.
Most of all, these Huskies pulled off the dual upsets of the Longhorns and then Florida State while coach Jill Hultquist was home in Canada to be with her gravely ill father. He passed away early this week.
"It motivated us," Krsljanin said in her accented English. "We knew her situation was much worse than ours, much more serious. It motivated us to play better, to play as if she was there. We thought, `We can do it' -- and she can see that we can play as she wants us to play."
Assistant coach Damon Coupe led the Huskies in Florida while Hultquist was in Canada.
Coupe was watching football's national championship game last month and saw ESPN panelists Urban Meyer and Nick Saban talk about how they never give rah-rah speeches right before games. Those big-time coaches say their big motivational talks come the night before.
So that's when Coupe addressed the Huskies. He talked only briefly of the significance of beating Texas and UW's former coach.
"It was more on, `How do we want to play? Our coach isn't here. She is dealing with something bigger than tennis. We want to go out and play the way she would want to be proud of.'
"That was something I wanted them to keep the whole weekend: Are you playing with pride? Are you walking off the court being proud of your effort -- and Jill being proud of your effort? That was the constant reminder."
After UW's doubles teams were subpar Saturday against Texas pairings that weren't exactly awesome, Coupe called the team back together.
"What's holding us back?" he asked the Huskies.
"A couple of them said, `Fear.' We can't play with fear. It can't enter our minds.
"I thought after the weekend that hopefully the team really proved to themselves that they can play this way on a consistent basis."
And under any circumstances.
Through it all, the Huskies managed to cross off another item on their "to-do" list of getting the program back to the national elite - return to the National Team Indoor final site.
"This year, not only have we actually gone through we have gone through, we've done it with the feeling like we belong," Dy said. "It's not like, `Oh, wow! We luckily made it, and we're actually luckily here as the last team at the national indoors.'
"That's such a big change, for me, compared to last year, or even my freshman year (when the Huskies reached the NCAA Sweet 16).
"I feel that it's normal that we are going to Virginia."