Jan. 23, 2008
Q: First off, you return every player from a team that made the NCAA Final last year. How excited are you to start the season?
A: Oh, without a doubt we're excited about this season. Collectively, it's probably the best group of players that we have had in my 12 years. It's a mature group that knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level. We are fortunate to have four extremely talented seniors in Tracy Lin, Riza Zalameda, Elizabeth Lumpkin and Alex McGoodwin. They will lead the team this year and I'm confident that they will do an excellent job. I truly believe that there is no substitute for senior leadership and that is something that we have an abundance of. And from an experience standpoint I'd say we're in extremely good shape. We return everyone from a team that made an incredible run in the NCAAs last year so needless to say, we're expecting big things for this team.
Q: Speaking of last year, how much do you think that experience will help the team this season?
A: I'd say it has already played a big part in this team's development. To come so close and come up just a little bit short in the end was a real eye opener for this team. I think they are fired up and excited because they have another shot at it. I can see it in practice. They believe that they have what it takes to win a national championship. As a coach, it's exciting to see that kind of enthusiasm and that kind of drive from our players. I'd say that we were excited to make the final last year but this team wants a championship and is going to do whatever it takes to get back there again this year.
Q: Were you pleased with how the team performed during the fall season?
A: I thought we turned in some decent results in the fall. We didn't have all of the results that maybe we wanted, but the team worked hard and showed great desire so I wasn't that concerned. I think the attitude has been incredible. They came in very excited for this year knowing that we have one of the best teams in the country. It was encouraging. It's exciting to be a part of. Everyone is very focused on wanting to do well. But we also know that we can't rely on the past. Just because we made the final last year doesn't mean we are going to go that far again this season. It's going to take a lot of hard work, focus, and commitment to do that well again.
Q: With so many players returning, do you expect many changes to the lineup?
A: Well we have a very talented newcomer in Andrea Remynse so I expect her presence to change things up a little bit because I think she is definitely talented enough to play in our top six. We have a lot of experience, but I think one difficult thing about that is that we are probably going to have a player who played last year who may not play as much this year.
Q: Riza Zalameda has the chance to become just the sixth player in UCLA history to earn four straight All-America honors. What do you expect from her in her final season?
A: Riza has obviously had a great career and I expect her to have a very solid senior season to really go out on a positive note. She is our best doubles player and probably one of the best doubles players in the country. Her contribution in that area is going to be huge for us this year. She did a great job leading at No. 1 doubles last year with a freshman (Yasmin Schnack). They had an excellent season together. This year, Riza is really working on her game and looking to have a more consistent season. I know a real focus of hers is to try and avoid the highs and lows that she has experienced in the past. Some of her greatest wins have been followed by some tough losses. Hopefully she can avoid that this year. Playing No. 1 is a tough position because there are no easy matches. You have to bring your best every match and I think if she can find that level of consistency she will have an outstanding senior season.
Q: The Pac-10 season is always tough, but what is your overall assessment of this year's schedule?
A: Well, we are going to be tested right off the bat with Baylor coming to LA in what will be just our second match of the year. They are always a strong team so we're going to have to be ready from the start. We don't really have the luxury of easing into the season like we've done in the past. And then not long after that we have the ITA National Team Indoors in Wisconsin. That's a tournament that we have not done that well in the last five or six years so it's a great opportunity for us to go in and try to win it. It's a national tournament where we are going to face the top teams in the country so it will be an early test to see where we are at and what we need to work on. As far as the Pac-10 goes, I know USC, Stanford, Cal - they are all going to be extremely tough teams. When you play in the Pac-10 you don't really get any breaks. But it prepares us for what we will face in May so we welcome the competition.
Q: Other than winning a national championship, what other goals have you set for this year's team?
A: It might sound kind of obvious, but I think one of our goals is to win every match. It sounds simple, but I think for the first time since I've been here we have a team that knows that it is good enough to do just that. This team doesn't think it should lose to anybody. That doesn't mean we are going to go undefeated this season, but the attitude of this team is that we are good enough to win every match we go into. I think in the past we would take some losses and then turn it up in May when it really counted. This team wants to win all the big matches not just the ones at the end of the year. Also winning the Pac-10 is always a goal. The conference title always seems to go through Stanford so we obviously have a tough road to get there. But this team has a great opportunity to do it.
Q: Speaking of Stanford, last year marked UCLA's first victory over the Cardinal in quite some time. How big was that for this program?
A: It was huge. To be able to beat them, and at the NCAA Tournament of all places, was really special. We've had so many close matches with them in the past that to finally pull one out was a huge confidence boost for our players. Knowing that we can win big matches, handle adversity, deal with the pressure - these are all things that will help us this year. Stanford is obviously one of the top programs in the country and to know that we can beat them is a big deal because now the players actually believe they can do it. Maybe some of our teams in the past didn't have that same confidence so it's nice to finally get over that hump.
Q: Alex McGoodwin was granted a fifth year by the NCAA. How excited are you to have her back this season?
A: It was great news, especially for Alex because I knew it was something that she really wanted. She is one of the hardest working players on the team and a great role model for the underclassmen. Having her back not only helps in singles but doubles as well because we get to keep our teams together. It's tough because it obviously means that there isn't a spot open for someone else to get the chance to play, but this team knows that we are better with her than without her so it's not an issue. We're excited that she is back. She didn't play much in the fall because of a wrist injury, but she is 100 percent heading into the spring.