Bulldogs Win Fourth Consecutive WAC Title
April 23, 2005
HONOLULU - In a result as quick as it was dominating, Fresno State claimed its fourth WAC title in a row -- and fifth overall -- with an overwhelming 4-0 victory over top-seeded Rice in the conference championship match on Saturday afternoon at the UH Tennis Complex.
The second-seeded Bulldogs became just the second school in Western Athletic Conference history to win four conference titles in a row. BYU, from 1993-96, was the other. In officially stamping the program as a WAC women's tennis dynasty, Fresno State also joined the Cougars as the only school to win five women's tennis championships.
Just as important, the Bulldogs (16-8) earned an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, which begins May 13 at campus sites around the nation. Fresno State has played in 10 consecutive NCAA's, last year reaching the round of 16 for just the second time ever.
The Bulldogs continued the impressive level of play that highlighted their late-season emergence. They have won eight consecutive matches and saved perhaps their best performance of the 2005 campaign for the WAC finals, executing as well as they have all year.
And getting the team to peak at just the right time has not been an easy task for head coach Simon Thibodeau. In his second year at the helm, Thibodeau was forced to deal with several injuries and illnesses to his top six players. As a result, Fresno State sputtered for a good portion of the year, even finding its record at 8-8 in early April.
But the Bulldogs circled the wagons for a stretch run that has seen the team's confidence go from rock bottom to sky high. That, plus the dominating fashion in which his team won the tournament, made comparing WAC titles easy for Thibodeau.
"No question about it, this one is sweeter than last year," Thibodeau said. "We weren't the favorite this year, so we really had to prove we were the better team. We might have thought we were the better team, but we had to go out and prove it. And to play like we did today is really special. It was our most complete performance of the year as a team, and it came at the perfect moment."
Fresno State set the tone immediately by blitzing Rice in the doubles to grab a 1-0 lead. Courtney Jantz and Lucia Sainz cruised at No. 1 to an 8-3 score while Katharina Winterhalter and Fadzai Masiyazi barely broke a sweat in their 8-3 victory. The matches finished within seconds of each other.
Winterhalter, who with Masiyazi dropped just three games combined in their doubles wins in the semifinals and finals, noted the seeds of Fresno State's shutout win were sown in claiming the doubles point.
"It's always important to win that doubles point," Winterhalter said. "We really jumped on them, and that gave us confidence. We got big leads on all three courts, and that's what we wanted to do to. Our goal was to show them who the boss was."
The Bulldogs attack never let up in singles. They won the first set in five of the six matches and never allowed Rice (17-8) a chance to get into the match.
Fresno State increased its lead to 3-0 when Lucia Tallo at No. 2 and Jacqui Haskett at No. 5 both won their matches in under an hour. Tallo, who became the first Bulldog ever to win four WAC titles in four years, played perhaps her best match of the spring in defeating Kimberley Patenaude 6-0, 6-2. Not long after Tallo's victory, Haskett dusted off Christine Dao at No. 5 by scores of 6-2, 6-0.
Fittingly, it was Winterhalter who clinched the championship for Fresno State. The junior, whose outstanding play in April helped spur the team's turnaround, defeated Blair DiSesa 7-5, 7-6 (2) to seal the 4-0 victory and the tournament title. It was Winterhalter's eighth straight win and increased her team-leading victory total to 27.
"[Winterhalter] deserved to clinch that match because she's been playing the best on the team," Thibodeau said. "But the bottom line is that everyone showed up to play today. From the first point of doubles to when Kat clinched it, we all played great tennis. It is just so satisfying to know we came in here as the No. 2 seed and proved we are still the best team in the WAC."
For Winterhalter, who was named first-team All-WAC in singles, her smile after the match told the story of how happy she was.
"We came to this tournament to win it," she said. "We didn't care if we were seeded first or second or whatever. Next year, we'll come back and try to get another."
Match Notes: Fresno State will discover its first round opponent and destination when the NCAA Tournament Selection Show airs Wednesday, May 4, on ESPNews. The time of the show will be announced at a later date ... Fresno State won its 12th consecutive WAC Tournament match and 20th straight over a league opponent ... the Bulldogs have knocked Rice out of the WAC Tournament the past three years ... the Bulldogs placed Katharina Winterhalter (first-team singles) and Lucia Sainz (first-team singles) on the All-WAC team ... Courtney Jantz and Sainz were also first team in doubles ... this year marked the first time a Fresno State player did not win WAC Player of the Year since 2000. That honor went to Daniela Muscolino of Tulsa ... Fresno State hosts next year's WAC Tournament at the Wathen Tennis Center ... the Bulldogs are now 2-0 this year when the women's tennis SID runs 4.5 miles the morning of their match. If they keep winning, the SID will probably be ready for a marathon.
(2) Fresno State def. (1) Rice, 4-0
Records: Fresno State (16-8); Rice (17-8)
Records: Fresno State (16-8); Rice (17-8)