Jan. 10, 2002
With five returning players, including first-team All-Pac-10 selection Sara Walker, and the addition of one of the country's best recruiting classes, featuring freshman sensation Megan Bradley, the 2002 UCLA women's tennis team will no doubt be one of the title contenders when the NCAAs roll around this May.
Unlike in 2001, when an injury plagued Bruin squad had trouble fielding six healthy players, this year's team possesses the depth and experience necessary for runs at both the Pac-10 and NCAA titles.
Stella Sampras is entering her sixth season as head coach of the Bruins, owning a 77-53 overall record. She has guided the Bruins to four top-10 finishes in just five seasons and was named 2000 ITA West Region Coach of the Year after leading the Bruins to the NCAA Quarterfinals that season. Sampras is looking to help UCLA enjoy the type of success she enjoyed as a four-time All-American at UCLA from 1988-91. During her playing days, the Bruins never finished out of the top-3 at the NCAAs, registering two runner-up and two third-place finishes.
Assisting Sampras with the coaching duties will be Jon Reeves, who is entering his second season with the program, and volunteer assistant coach Bill Zaima. Zaima was the head coach at UCLA for 16 seasons prior to retiring at the end of the 1996 season, leading the Bruins to the national title in 1981.
In singles, UCLA possesses a one-two punch as good as any team in the country. The Bruins will be led by returning two-time All-American Sara Walker and freshman standout Megan Bradley, both of whom are ranked in the top-10 in the fall ITA singles rankings. Since arriving at UCLA in 2000, Walker has established herself as one of the elite players in the nation after finishing her first two seasons in the top-10 in the year-end ITA rankings. She posted an impressive 13-3 record this past fall, winning both the Omni Hotels ITA Regionals and the consolation draw at the National Indoors. Joining Walker in one of the top-two spots will be freshman standout Megan Bradley. Widely regarded as the nation's No. 1 incoming freshman, Bradley finished 2001 as the top-ranked junior player in the United States. She burst onto the collegiate scene in September, winning her first tournament at the adidas Invitational. She ended up finishing the fall with an impressive 8-1 record.
In the Nos. 3-7 positions, the Bruins are fortunate to have five players with enough talent capable to fill any of those spots. Returnees Lauren Fisher, Petya Marinova, Catherine Hawley and Mariko Fritz-Krockow, along with freshman Sarah Gregg, will all see action in the bottom four positions. Fisher ended the fall with a No. 81 national ranking after posting a 5-3 record and winning the consolation final at the adidas Invitational. Hawley ended last season ranked No. 98 in the country after playing in the top-two positions due to injuries. Both Marinova and Fritz-Krockow turned in solid fall results and will see significant playing time. Marinova notched 18 wins a season ago, playing mostly at the No. 3 position. Fritz-Krockow, UCLA's No. 5 singles player last season as a freshman, missed the last month of fall play due to a foot injury, but should be at full-strength by the time the spring season rolls around. Though only a freshman, Gregg will see significant time in the Bruin lineup. She comes to UCLA as one of the top junior players in Great Britian, having represented her country in a number of international events throughout the world. Anya Loncaric is another newcomer to this year's squad. However, she will have to sit out the 2002 season after playing two years on the professional tour.
With two teams ranked in the top-15, UCLA is as strong as it's been in doubles in quite some time. The Bruin duo of Marinova/Walker finished the fall with an impressive 11-1 record, having won titles at the adidas Invitational and the ITA Regionals. They also reached the semifinals at the National Indoors, finishing fall play with a No. 8 national ranking. Right behind Marinova and Walker is the tandem of Bradley and Fisher. They reached the finals at the adidas Invitational and ITA Regionals (falling to Marinova and Walker twice) to finish the fall with a 7-2 overall record and No. 13 national ranking. The third doubles spot has not yet been set, but will likely feature Gregg with either Hawley or Fritz-Krockow. Gregg and Hawley played well enough in the fall to earn a No. 54 ITA ranking.
With an abundance of talent, leadership and depth, most would agree that the Bruins possess all the necessary ingredients for an NCAA title run in 2002.