John Tsumas feels his team isn't half bad, despite the fact they haven't come close to winning half of their matches.
Injuries, a tough schedule, a young team and a few missed opportunities have left the University of Utah women's tennis coach with a 5-13 record and six matches left to play.He's quick to point out, however, that on the Utes' schedule this year are 13 of the toughest tennis teams in the country, "and when you look at the results, we haven't lost to a team that wasn't ranked in the Top 25 this year."
Consider, also, the fact that the Utes are a young team this year. The roster includes 1 senior, 3 juniors and five new faces.
Experience, admits Tsumas, "isn't one of our strengths."
The Utes started the season ranked No. 22 in the country. Currently they are not ranked but did receive votes, an indication that there are coaches out there, who believe like Tsumas, that the Utes are far better than their record.
There have, of course, been some bright moments for Tsumas and his team.
There were good wins over Northwestern and Texas A & M, and some bright moments like freshman Lisa Salvatierra upsetting the No. 1 player in the country, Lisa Raymond, 6-3, 6-3, in a match against the No. 1 team in the country, Florida. And, although the Utes lost to pressure match 7-2, they did win at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles, and went three sets
in two other matches.
Two of the Utes' highpoint this season have been the play of Heidi Chinchiolo and the mixing of Ruth Ann Stevens, the only senior on the team, and the freshman Salvatierra.
Chinchiolo, who came to the U. with impressive credentials - ranked No. 33 in the nation in girls' 18s - chose to book-it last year rather than play tennis. This year she holds the team's only winning record in singles - 9-7 with wins in her last six of seven matches.
"She is playing very well right now," Tsumas points out.
Then there's the blending of Stevens and Salvatierra. Looking for the right doubles combinations, he experimented by splitting up his best team early in the year and tried something new.
From the first stroke the new duo of Stevens and Salvatierra blended like ice in water. They won the ITCA regions then upset the No. 3 seeded team in the national in making it to the semifinals. Currently they are ranked No. 7 in the country with a 16-8 record.
Tsumas said that Stevens brings into doubles experience and "one of the best service returns in tennis," and Salvatierra comes in "as one of the few freshman I've ever seen who could volley well. Together they make a great doubles team."
The Utah duo has beaten four of the top 20 doubles teams in the country. Against the No. 1 team in the country they won the first set 6-3 and were up 5-2 in the second before they eventually lost.
Tsumas said at this point in the season his team's doubles play, buoyed by the No. 1 duo, is his greatest strength.
"If we can hold our own in singles, then I feel pretty confident about our doubles," he reported.
Having a troubled year is Alison Bradford, a junior from Salt Lake City and Skyline High School. Last year she was ranked in both singles and doubles (as Stevens' partner), but this year is suffering from a ruptured disc in her back, which has caused to game to follow a roller-coaster track.
Stephanie Ball, a junior from Alta High School, and Lisa Paal, a junior from Judge Memorial, are the last of the returning players.
New are Kristin Longston, junior from Skyline, who played her first two years at Weber State; Lisa Derby, a sophomore from Olympus, who played one year at Weber; and Jennifer Jensen, a freshman from Hillcrest where she was the 4A girls' her senior year.
Next up on the Utes' schedule is BYU, currently holding the spot the Utes held at the start of the season - ranked No. 22 in the country.
That match will be at 5 p.m. on Thursday on the Utes home courts at the new Eccles Tennis Center.
Other matches, all at home, involve the University of Idaho, Nevada-Reno and Weber State. Then its off to the WAC tournament in Fort Collins, Colo., April 23-25.