Jan. 9, 2001
Los Angeles --With a wealth of senior leadership and experience, coupled with a talented group of underclassmen, there is no question that the 2001 UCLA women's tennis team is as balanced as any squad in the country. In fact, the only real question for head coach Stella Sampras and the preseason top-10 Bruins in 2001 will be how long they can stay healthy in order to have a legitimate shot at this year's national championship.
Entering her fifth season as head coach in Westwood, Sampras has guided the Bruins to three top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships, including two top-5 showings in 1997 and 2000. Having won an NCAA doubles title as a player at UCLA in the late 80's, Sampras knows what it's going to take for this Bruin team to compete at the highest level possible.
"We're a little young, but we're going to get better," said Sampras. "I see this team improving greatly as the season goes on. We had an excellent fall, and everyone improved a great deal. We might struggle a bit early on, but I see us surprising a lot of people."
Without a doubt, UCLA will miss the services of All-Americans Amanda Basica, Annica Cooper and Elizabeth Schmidt to graduation. Combined, this trio accounted for nearly half of UCLA's victories in 2000. The Bruins , however, return seven players from last year's team, including 2000 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Sara Walker. Ranked third in the preseason ITA singles rankings, Walker is a returning All-American with a legitimate shot at this year's NCAA Singles title.
"Sara is without a doubt one of the best players in the country," said Sampras. "She had an unbelievable season last year. She got hurt at NCAAs and is just now just getting back to 100%. She's only a sophomore, but we'll be looking for her to provide strong leadership this year."
Behind Walker, a host of other players will be vying for time in the top half of the Bruin lineup. Returnees Zana Zlebnik and Catherine Hawley, along with newcomers Mariko Fritz-Krockow and Lauren Fisher, are all capable of producing in the top positions. Zlebnik, a newcomer to the Bruins last year after playing two seasons at Texas Tech, was injured for much of 2000. She has made great strides in fall play and will be counted on heavily in her final season of collegiate tennis. Hawley, a junior who arrived at UCLA last year following her freshman season at the University of Richmond, enjoyed a great summer and solid fall season after reaching the round of 16 at the ITA Regionals in November. Two freshmen who bring a wealth of experience at the junior level are Fritz-Krockow and Fisher. A native of Tokyo, Japan, Krockow has played in a number of ITF junior tournaments, including 2000 Junior Wimbledon and the 1999 Connelly Cup, the junior equivalent to Fed Cup. Fisher, a member of Team USA in 1999 (formerly the U.S. National Team), was also the third-ranked doubles player in the nation that same year. She will be counted on heavily to produce at a high level in both singles and doubles in only her first season of collegiate tennis.
Petya Marinova and Cristina Popescu are two experienced veterans who, if healthy, will make UCLA a very dangerous team. Both were injured for much of 2000, as Marinova played in just 11 of UCLA's 26 matches, while Popescu didn't see any singles action all of last year. Both are former Canadian National Champions at the junior level and are capable breaking the top half of the Bruin lineup.
Rounding out the UCLA lineup will be senior Jennifer Donahue, sophomore Michelle Stiefel and newcomer Chelsea Godbey. All three will see significant time in the bottom half of the UCLA lineup in 2001.
Solid results in the highly competitive Pac-10 Conference will ultimately determine how far the Bruins can go in the postseason. With arguably the toughest schedule in the country, UCLA will play No. 1 Stanford, No. 5 Cal, No. 6 Texas, No. 7 ASU, No. 10 Pepperdine, No. 12 USC and No. 24 Arizona to name just a few. If UCLA can get through the Pac-10 and a difficult non-conference schedule without too much trouble, the Bruins will likely be one of the 16 teams traveling to Atlanta this May for the NCAA Championships.