Last season, the Cougars accomplished a feat that no other team had ever achieved at Washington State and they intend to stay on a similar track in 1998-99. After a comeback season, the Cougars received an invitation to the NCAA tournament field and were pitted against No. 30 Nevada-Las Vegas. Although the ride was brief, with a 5-1 loss to the Rebels, the new experience gave WSU a taste of being an NCAA tournament team.
Record books were also rewritten, as graduating senior Tunde Nagy (Balatonlelle, Hungary) ended her three seasons at WSU with 63 career singles victories, ranking second on the all-time career singles victories list. The Cougars finished the season with a 10-10 record.
"It is no secret that Tunde was a tremendous asset for our team," WSU coach Cari Groce said. "However, I think we have brought in two players that we have already seen fit in and without a doubt will have an impact on the current lineup."
Despite this loss, WSU returns the bulk of its team with eight returning players and the addition of two. Freshmen Sarah Burrows (Lakewood, Colo.) and walk-on Marcie Malone (Longview, Wash.) are the two newcomers to the team.
Rounding out the top returnees include sophomores Erica Perkins (Seattle, Wash.) and Patrycja Gajdzik (Szczecin, Poland) who will battle for the No. 1 and 2 singles position vacated by Nagy.
"It's really nice to know that we have two players of that caliber holding down those top two positions for us," Groce said. "No matter what - it is going to be great for the team."
Heading into her eighth season at the helm of Cougar tennis, Groce recorded her 100th career dual match victory against rival Washington last spring. Groce needs four more victories to become WSU's winningest women's tennis coach in school history.
In doubles competition, the Cougars can expect to see senior Andrea Reisz (Pecs, Hungary) and Perkins at No. 1 followed by Gajdzik and sophomore Tamara Filipovic (Belgrade, Yugoslavia) in second.
"It is nice to be able to have a number of players that can play the game," Groce said. "It is just about finding the right combination."
Most Cougars took advantage of the summer circuit and this in return has built their confidence and maturity on the court, Groce said. This extra benefit has seen some much-awaited awards as the Cougars will send five student-athletes to participate in the National Clay Courts in Baltimore, Maryland on Sept. 22-27.
Senior Helen Frankland (Derbyshire, England), juniors Melissa Pine (Newfoundland, Canada) and Nikki Willard (Bellevue, Wash.), and sophomore Moniek Van De Ven (Cape Town, South Africa) are challenging their teammates as well. Groce says there are no clear-cut positions, due to all of the competition on the court between each other, something Groce feels is needed.
"Our players have been working out on their own, since they have been back," Groce said. "A lot of them are ready to get back into collegiate play, after spending the summer playing. They all have some goals set for individual rankings, which is what fall is all about."
Another added bonus will be more home matches this season. WSU will host Oregon, Arizona, Boise State, Arizona State, Southern Cal, UCLA, Idaho, and UW at the Stadium Way Tennis Center - a huge amount of Pac-10 competition that will surely delight fans and give the Cougars an edge on home turf.
"We are extremely excited to have those caliber teams coming in here and expose what we face on a weekly basis," Groce said. "The whole community and tennis community will benefit from the experience, as well as the team."
With a continued focus on strength training, the Cougars have also increased their flexibility and quickness on the court.
"We are not going to come up against an opponent and lose a match this year where a team is going to be more fit or better prepared," Groce said. "They are not going to beat us that way - they are going to have to beat us, because they are a better team or flat out better that day."
BYU Invitational Notes ... WSU faces tough regional competition versus opponents Brigham Young, Utah, Colorado State, Wyoming, Tulsa, and Weber State ..."It is going to be a very strong tournament and it will challenge our players right off the bat," Groce said. "They are not going to have an opportunity to start off slow - they are going to hit the ground running." ... ITA preseason team rankings will be available on Sept. 15 ... The ITA recently honored WSU as an All-Academic Team for 1997-98.