Jan. 28, 2003
After losing two All-Americans to graduation and with four new faces on this year's squad, it wouldn't be a surprise if head coach Kevin Epley altered his team goals a bit to fit a young and inexperienced team. After all, last year's veteran club went 17-6, won the WAC championship and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
But the third-year leader of the Bulldogs will have no talk of rebuilding.
"I like the philosophy that we do not believe in rebuilding years," Epley said. "We did lose two All-Americans, and our freshmen have big shoes to fill, but we have a great nucleus and there is no question the future of Fresno State women's tennis is bright."
The individual most responsible for this bright outlook is sophomore Chloe Carlotti, who last year became the first freshman in program history to earn All-America honors. The Paris, France, native racked up a 33-16 record ? including 18-9 in dual matches at No. 2 singles ? and advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA Singles Tournament, becoming just the third Bulldog ever to advance that far in the national championships. Her win total was the second-highest number ever at Fresno State.
And she equally valuable to the team in doubles, as well. She went 20-8 primarily with Lucia Tallo at No. 2.
"Chloe was simply phenomenal last year," Epley said. "To reach All-America status as a freshman is a magnificent accomplishment, and we expect her to just keep getting better and better. When she plays aggressively, she has the ability to beat the best players in the nation. She will without a doubt be leading the Bulldog charge this season."
Also a vital cog in last season's success, Tallo went 24-12 (15-7 dual) while anchoring the No. 4 singles spot. She enters this year with momentum after claiming victory in 12 of her final 15 matches last year. She started the 2002-03 season 4-3 in fall tournaments. Tallo should team with Carlotti to form one of the top doubles teams on the West Coast.
"Lucia has proven she can compete at the national level," Epley said. Both her singles and doubles game improved tremendously over the past year, and her versatility will be a tremendous asset to this team the upcoming year."
Two other returnees will help add depth and experience to this year's squad. Senior Kelly Ramirez and junior Courtney Jantz will both vie for playing time with several newcomers. Ramirez compiled a 10-4 record and won four of the five dual matches in which she played, all coming at No. 6. She also went 4-1 in doubles dual matches. Ramirez has also proven she can win the big match when called upon ? Epley calls her victory over 12th-ranked Northwestern's Ruth Barnes in 2001 "the biggest win of the past two seasons."
Jantz posted a 4-14 mark last year, including 2-6 in dual matches playing at No. 6. But she was especially valuable in doubles, where she racked up 14 wins at Nos. 2 and 3, playing primarily with Chantel Wiggins. Her solid play on the doubles court makes Jantz that much more important to the success of this year's team.
"Both Kelly and Courtney have improved a lot," Epley said. "They are the only two players who have been with me since I arrived here in 2000. Kelly has proven she can play when the pressure is on. Her victory against Northwestern two years ago catapulted us into the top 10, and I am hoping her experience will help us seal some more big victories this season.
"Courtney has really cranked it up a bit this fall. She has been working tirelessly on her serve and fitness, and she has stepped up as a leader on this team. I can honestly say Courtney is the only player I have ever had that has never had a bad practice. She can not only be a very good tennis player but a good leader, as well."
Four newcomers round out the 2002-03 team. Katherin Winterhalter, Ofra Friedman, Lucia Sainz, Kirsty McRae and Vlatka Jovanovic have all joined the Fresno State team and will hope to guide the Bulldogs to a seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
With four of the team's eight players being rookies, Fresno State's ability to overcome its inexperience will be a factor in finding success.
"The big question is how quickly this team will gel," Epley said. Will we be able to come through in big matches? Only time will tell. We will have plenty of opportunities to prove ourselves, but as young as we are, I think we should still compete for the WAC championship and an NCAA Tournament berth."
Of the new Bulldogs, Winterhalter made the biggest impact immediately in the fall. The Clovis, Calif., native went 7-4, including an appearance in the semifinals of the Saint Mary's Tournament. She also displayed a solid doubles game, going 7-2 and reaching the quarterfinals of the Omni Hotels Northwest Regionals with Jovanovic.
Jovanovic was the other of the newcomers who competed in the fall. The Munich, Germany, native went 5-3 and reached the third round of the Omni Hotels Northwest Regionals. With Winterhalter, Jovanovic was 3-1 in doubles.
"Katherin is very talented, and toward the end of the fall, she really started to find her groove," Epley said. "She went to high school in Clovis, so she will step in as our local player. When Katherin puts it all together, she is going to be a very good player.
"And Vlatka is one of the hardest workers players on the team. She has an energetic spirit, and because of her dedication she has improved as much as anyone in the last semester. We look for her to have some big battles out there this year."
McRae, Friedman and Sainz will both join the team in the spring semester, in time for the first dual matches of the year. And they will be play large roles in helping Fresno State navigate one of the toughest schedules in program history. The Bulldogs will face perennial powerhouses such as Arizona and William and Mary, who both visit the Spalding G. Wathen Tennis Center in 2003. Fresno State also travels to face Washington, UCLA, Stanford and Pepperdine.
"Our schedule is loaded with challenges, but we prefer to look at them as opportunities. I'm hopeful that we can take advantage of these opportunities and have a fantastic season."
|Email this article||Printer-friendly format|