Jan. 18, 2006
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Three years ago, the UCSB women's tennis team was in dire straits. Head Coach Pete Kirkwood's squad was coming off a 6-19 season and had just watched his No. 2, 3 and 4 singles players walk away from the team. The team didn't need just one savior; it needed an entire recruiting class of them.
"This is a group that really took a chance coming here and their goal was to rebuild the program, enter the national rankings and win the Big West," Kirkwood said. "So far, we've done everything but win the Big West."
From the number one slot to number six, the Gauchos will feature virtually the same lineup as last year. Other than sophomore Charlotte Scatliffe, every Gaucho in the top six will be a returning senior.
At the top is senior Marielle Gruenig (Basel, Switzerland), a two-time All-Big West honoree and the owner of a 19-2 record at No. 1 singles last year. Gruenig will be expected to do more of the same for the Gauchos this year at No. 1 singles as well as No. 1 doubles, where she earned First Team All-Big West honors in 2005 alongside No.2 singles player Chelsea Glynn.
"Marielle is the most dedicated player I've ever coached," Kirkwood said. "She's an echelon above everyone else. Her backhand and her grit separate her from everyone else and I think she's got a chance at Nationals this year."
Gruenig's doubles partner Chelsea Glynn (West Des Moines, Iowa) will also have to be a major player if the Guachos are to make a run at the Big West crown. Glynn, who earned second team All-Big West honors last year after carving out a 15-8 record at No. 2 singles, should be even more comfortable as a Gaucho in her second season after transferring from Iowa.
"She's solid as a rock," Kirkwood said. "She won a lot of big matches for us last year. She's just a tenacious competitor and she's getting significantly better at closing out matches."
After taking last fall off to study abroad in Paris, senior Andrea Pintar spent much of last year playing catch up. Still, she managed a 14-7 record in the No. 3 role for the Gauchos. This year, Pintar seems poised for her best season yet.
"If she has a big year, that will be a big swing point for us," Kirkwood said. "She's a big match player. You want to have her out there with the match on the line."
No. 4 Leslie Damion will likely move up from the No. 5 spot where she recorded a 14-7 record in 2005. Damion, who is a team captain along with Gruenig, will have a new doubles partner this year in Mio Fukushima. Damion's doubles partner of a year ago, Pintar, will likely team with sophomore Charlotte Scatliffe in 2006.
"Leslie has all the tools. When she came here, she didn't have the confidence she has now," Kirkwood said. "When she's serving well, she's as good as anyone on the team."
Scatliffe is coming off an impressive freshman campaign in which she went 13-8 at No. 4 singles. As the lone underclassmen in the top six, Scatliffe figures to be instrumental to the future of the program.
"Once she figures out how to structure a point, she could be a top-three player easily," Kirkwood said.
Rounding out the top six will either be junior Kristen Wilson or senior Mio Fukushima. While Wilson doesn't have quite the playing experience Fukushima has, her athleticism has put her on the cusp of the starting lineup. Last year, Fukushima struggled at the six spot, going 7-12, but should be a tough player to beat this year if she stays consistent with her serve, according to Kirkwood.
Sophomore Juliette Mutzke may currently sit outside the top six, but Kirkwood insists she is the most improved player on the team from last year. Brittany Kausen has also made tremendous strides since last year. The sophomore can play at the No. 6 and 7 spot and her tenacity off the court and in the weight room gives Kirkwood a tremendous asset down the line.
Newcomer Noelle Hiernse out of Laguna Beach, Calif., is currently No. 10 on Kirkwood's ladder. A big serve and an explosive attack should make her a top six player in years to come. Fellow Dana Hills High School alum Amy Vyhnis has been in and out of the lineup since she came to UCSB and will likely be the first alternate for doubles play as well as a player coach in her senior year. Walk-on Julia Gast has continued to improve in her sophomore season and will give UCSB solid depth in 2006.