The two things that could stop BYU from winning its third consecutive Women's WAC tennis title, and its seventh in 10 years, are the wind and finals.
It appears that those two factors are the Cougars' only real weaknesses going into the WAC tournament, which begins next Thursday in El Paso, Texas. Put those two things aside and the BYU women are a solid favorite.San Diego will likely go into the tournament as the No. 2 seed, followed by the University of Utah, New Mexico, Fresno, UTEP and Colorado State.
BYU's semester system puts the tournament right in the middle of testing next week. Coach Ann Valentine says players typically react in two ways. With the burden of school lifted off them they play well, or they're so drained from testing they struggle.
"The other thing we face is the wind. We don't play well in the wind and the wind always blows in Texas," she adds.
Still, the 13-7 Cougars are favored to repeat. They beat the Aztecs, 5-4, early in the season, whipped the Utes 8-1, and have wins over No. 15-ranked Notre Dame and No. 18 Kansas.
"Based on our results this season, we feel good about our chances going into the tournament," says Valentine.
Utah will go into the event as the spoiler. It has not had a particularly great season, but all things considered, it came out better than expected. Its record is 6-14, but all of the losses came at the hands of teams ranked in the top 40 and six of those from teams ranked in the top 20 - BYU included.
"Considering we lost our No. 1 player at the start of the season and that we're an awfully young team (one junior, three sophomores, three freshman), we've had a pretty good year," says John Tsumas, women's tennis coach.
Jennifer Jensen, who was to have played No. 1 for Utah this season, underwent shoulder surgery and redshirted this year.
While the Utes are not ranked, they did beat New Mexico, which is ranked No. 39, and narrowly lost to San Diego, 5-4.
"We've had a number of matches this year that with one or two more points could have gone our way. For a young team I think we did well," he notes.
Several players of Utah origin will play prominent roles for both schools.
For the Cougars, Angela Nelson, who came to Provo from Highland High by way of one year at the University of California. She won the girls' 5A title at Highland and was both a player and academic All-America.
The Alder girls from Ogden - Juliet the sophomore and Adrien the freshman - are also expected to play in the conference finals.
At No. 1 will be Cherie Kaneshiro, a senior from Hawaii, with a 20-14 overall record; at No. 2 will be Jennifer Saret, a junior from the Philippines, with a 19-11 record; at No. 4 will be Michelle Domanico, a junior from Las Vegas, with a 17-11 record; and at No. 5 will be Julie Menefee, a senior from California, with a 13-9 record. Nelson (26-9) will play No. 3 and Adrien Alder (20-8) will play No. 6. Juliet Alder will play No. 3 doubles with Nelson.
Utah will have three local names on its WAC squad. Rebecca Foulger, a freshman from Highland High, has been playing Nos. 2, 3 and 4 and, says Tsumas, "Has had a great year as a freshman." She holds the best overall record at 12-8.
Sarah Mecham, a sophomore from Highland, will play No. 3 doubles and Angie Olson, a freshman from Ogden High, is expected to play at Nos. 4 or 5. Mecham is 4-12 in doubles and Olson is 6-13 in singles and 8-7 in doubles.
Playing at No. 1 for Utah will be Mirja Wallmark, a sophomore from Sweden. Other members include Linda Engbloom, a freshman from Sweden; Clodagh Bower, a junior from Las Vegas; and Diana Marek, a sophomore from Canada.
If Utah goes in as the No. 3 seed, it will likely play UTEP, then San Diego.
"And we'd like that," says Tsumas. "Assuming we get past UTEP, we'd like another shot at San Diego."
The pressure, though, is on BYU. It is almost assured an invitation to the NCAAs as the No. 1 seed from the region. Losing the WAC, however, could spoil those plans.