Seniors Dy, Smith, Pavlovic Saying Goodbye To UW
April 20, 2012
By Gregg Bell
Then the three seniors all giggle.
"Tallahassee," they say in unison.
Dy has become one of the best Husky women's tennis players ever, overcoming the intestinal disorder Crohn's Disease that stopped her thoughts of fully joining UW's ROTC program. Smith has been a fixture in the Huskies' lineup since she was a freshman, with 135 career wins in singles and doubles while becoming an all-academic honorable mention in the conference. And Pavlovic has emerged this season to rescue an injury depleted Huskies lineup to cap a journey that began in her native Germany and included a disorienting transition through a community college and a foreign language in a foreign land.
They have all succeeded individually. But Tallahassee will always represent the peak of these seniors' careers at Washington.
The home of Florida State University is where they pulled off thrilling upsets of Texas and FSU on consecutive days in January 2011 to qualify the Huskies for the ITA National Women's Indoor Championships. It was Washington's first appearance among the nation's team indoor finals in six years, and it had UW with the program's highest national ranking in the six-year tenure of coach Jill Hultquist, at No. 15.
"We had smiles for the next three days," Dy said, while Smith and Pavlovic laughed next to her in the lobby of UW's Nordstrom Tennis Center on the eve of their senior home finale at noon on Sunday.
No. 55 Washington hosts No. 66 Oregon outdoors at Bill Quillian Stadium with an outside chance to reach the NCAA tournament despite decimating injuries this spring.
Dy is the immensely talented All-American, four-year starter, psychology major and part-time ROTC class member from San Jose, Calif., who has competed internationally in junior Grand Slam tournaments such as Wimbledon, and last year captured the mixed doubles gold medal for the Philippines at the Southeast Asia Games.
A wrist injury after she reached the ITA national indoor semifinals last fall (her second semifinal appearance) has sabotaged her chance to break Washington's career match wins record of 111. But she still earned enough impressive victories from September to November to remain ranked 22nd in the country currently and on track for a spot in another NCAA Singles Championships later this spring.
Yet Tallahassee 14 months ago remains her favorite memory as a Husky.
Dy rallied from 5-2 down in the third set to win the final five games over 8th-ranked Aeriel Ellis of Texas on a Saturday. The next day she rallied from 5-4 down in the third set to beat Katie Rybakova of host Florida State. That sent UW into its first national indoor finals since 2005.
Playing her own part in the drama was Smith. With the Huskies trailing Texas, 2-3, Smith overcame Amanda Craddock at No. 3 singles, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), which knotted the match and set the stage for Dy. The next day against Florida State, Smith and Andjela Nemcevic won their No. 2 doubles match, which got the early doubles point for the Huskies in the eventual 4-3 win. So Dy had the final shot, but without Smith, the Huskies would have fallen short and Dy, Smith and Pavlovic wouldn't have their story to share about their favorite time as Huskies.
"We were the 24th-ranked team in the country. We had to beat the 16th-ranked team, Texas, in the first round and then in the second round we had to beat the 14 team in the country, Florida State," Dy said last week. "And both days we won 4-3. It was the best memory ever.
"We just ended up having so much fun in the evening," she added, somewhat coyly. "It was awesome."
"We were sooooo happy," Pavlovic, who arrived at UW from Luenen, Germany, by way of Cowley County Community College in Kansas two years ago, said in her accented English.
Most of all, the Huskies pulled off the memorable upsets of the Longhorns and Seminoles while Hultquist was home in Canada to be with her gravely ill father, who passed away soon after.
"It was just so emotional," Dy said. "We felt bad on our way to the East Coast - and then we ended up accomplishing every single thing."
That high point makes their senior season this spring that much more frustrating.
Dy has basically shut herself down the last two weeks, wearing a black brace over the wrist. The constant pain below her dominant, striking hand is the result of a cyst and then what doctors diagnosed as "intersection syndrome," defined as inflammation of intersecting tendons on the back of the wrist. Dy's pain on the underside of her wrist is unusual for tennis, where such repetitive injuries are usually on top of the joint of the back of the hand. That suggests there may also be nerve damage in the area.
She blames her admittedly fiendish workout habits for the ill-timed injury.
"For me, I sometimes can't control myself when it comes to practicing," said the owner of 96 career wins, fourth all-time at Washington. "When I prepare for matches, I like to practice until I feel comfortable. And that for me that can mean practicing too much. It can mean practicing to a point that my body doesn't like it, but I do."
That drive is how she's become an all-conference ace with a career dual match record in singles of 60-17, 41-9 since the start of her sophomore year. Yet she is somewhat fortunate to even be at UW. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease related to Crohn's Disease, six weeks after she signed her scholarship with UW.
"Jill said I was lucky," Dy said of Hultquist.
Dy's parents wanted her to stay close to home around Northern California so they could help her care for her condition, but she controlled it in her freshman year at Washington by completely changing her diet.
As in, making it as bland as possible.
"Plain rice. Chicken. No sauce. No soda. No ice cream. No dairy," Dy says, sounding particularly disappointed at the last two concessions. "Every day, the same thing. As freshmen, we would have free pizza around the team all the time after matches. I couldn't eat it."
The condition stopped her budding thoughts of joining UW's ROTC program full time - she says she would have been medically disqualified had she continued to pursue a commission as a military officer. Yet the 5-foot-6 dynamo has continued to take ROTC classes on tactics. She particularly likes the one on charging bunkers.
"It's awesome," she says.
After a solid freshman season left her wanting more, Dy took college tennis by force in the fall of her sophomore year, winning the first ITA Northwest Region Championship in Washington history, and following that with a trip to the semis of the ITA National Indoor Championships. She also made the semifinal round of the 2010 ITA All-American Championships, matching the run of teammate Venise Chan from the previous year. Dy is looking to earn ITA All-America honors for the third year in a row, if she can conquer this wrist pain. Whether or not she collects a third honor, Dy is assured of having her picture added to the All-America banner collection hanging in the Nordstrom Tennis Center, likely hanging right next to Chan, the player that gave UW one of the best one-two punches in the NCAA from 2009-11.
Dy has been a fixture in the top 25 of the national singles rankings for the past three years, with a career-best of No. 3 as a sophomore and highs of No. 4 as a junior and a senior, this past fall. And, oh yeah, she's been a conference all-academic honorable mention the past two years. She hopes to play in open tournaments this summer as she begins her professional tennis career, wrist willing.
Smith has had her own pain limiting her lately, low back pain. The 5-11 senior from City of Angels School in her native Los Angeles started every match of her freshman season at Washington, going 26-11. She helped UW reach the NCAA Round of 16 in 2009 with a singles win in the Huskies' upset of seventh-seeded USC in the second round. Smith also had NCAA tournament wins for the Huskies in their team victories over San Diego State, Utah, and last year's win over Maryland. Smith also ranks ninth in Husky history with 67 career doubles victories, playing No. 1 doubles at the end of last season with Venise Chan and this year with Dy when both were healthy.
She is finishing a double major in political science and communications and wants to get into sports media, marketing, public relations or advertising.
"I'm not in that moment of 'Wow, I did something great!' But my mom is," said Smith, who signed with the Huskies late in the recruiting process partly because "It was the Pac-10. And Denise was coming."
The 23-year-old Pavlovic will make her seventh start of the season Sunday against Oregon. It won't be any more challenging personally than her last few years.
She left her parents, Srebranka and Anton, 21-year-old brother Adrian plus steady boyfriend Eddy Weidenbach back in Luenen, Germany, to pursue her tennis career in the United States. A recruiter from European tournaments in which she had competed placed her at Cowley Community College in Arkansas City, Kansas -- which isn't as close to Arkansas as it is Oklahoma.
To hear Pavlovic tell it, Cowley isn't close to anything.
"It's in the middle of nowhere," she said of the town of 11,000 south of Wichita. "It was so windy. The people were different. The tennis courts were different - I was used to clay. The language was different.
"It was a different world."
She fought homesickness for what she found to be a powerhouse tennis program at the junior-college level. Two years ago, when it came time to find a major U.S. college team, Pavlovic sent unsolicited e-mails to 60 schools asking for a chance. Hultquist was the only coach who responded. She found her at Cowley College and visited her there.
Pavlovic also visited Florida Gulf Coast and Memphis - "I really didn't like the mascot," she said of the Tigers.
"Washington was always my favorite school, because of the academics and the tennis program," she said.
She is on track to graduate in December with a degree, fittingly, in geography. But her biggest accomplishment beyond that, beyond being pressed into front-line duty this season with all the Huskies' injuries? She still has Weidenbach as a boyfriend. They are going on four years now, maintaining long-distance love from Kansas and Seattle to Germany, where he works in real estate.
"I did it!" she said, smiling and knowing she is headed home to Germany after graduation. "It was hard."
Harder, perhaps, than even those upsets in Tallahassee. And maybe not always as fun.