The University of California at San Diego is poised to break through the elite tennis programs in southern California. With a relatively new head coach on the men’s side, a seasoned veteran leading the women, and some critical changes on the horizon, the temperature’s rising on the hard courts in La Jolla.
Coach Timmer Willing, the men’s coach in his fourth year at the helm of the Tritons, inherited a team that has finished over .500 in all but one season (2008), including an undefeated 20-0 run in 2011. With fourteen players on the roster, Willing has an overflowing talent pool led by #1 singles Eric Tseng and the top doubles tandem of Alexandre Miaule (pictured) and Marc Isaia. With an early 1-2 record this spring, the Tritons need some momentum to break the Top 10 rankings, Willing’s most immediate team goal.
In her 37th year as the women’s head coach, Liz LaPlante saw her team reach #3 in regional rankings last season, complimented by a berth in the regionals at Hawaii. But after losing the team’s top singles competitor to graduation, a younger roster is charged with keeping the program on the upswing. “We’re hoping to win with depth this year,” says LaPlante of a talent mix that has yet to lose this spring (3-0). At #4 and #5 singles, respectively, Alexandra Weil and Valeria Corral have dropped only one set in six matches.
Both squads eagerly await forthcoming changes to their respective programs, most significantly the shift to Division I (UCSD is now a D2 school) and the approval of scholarship funds for student athletes. Both initiatives have significant momentum towards final approval, and could be in effect within the next few years.
“It’s amazing that we have competed with scholarship schools,” says coach Willing, noting that UCSD has persevered despite the drawing power of financial assistance for athletes. A move to Division I would also provoke improvements in facilities and court conditions, as well as the ability to attract more players through scholarship programs.
“It becomes a whole new ballgame,” says LaPlante, noting that high-ranked SoCal recruits will respond not just to the team and the school’s stellar academics, but also the quality of life on a picturesque campus.
The #13 ranked UCSD Women face Point Loma this Wednesday, February 15, and Stanislaus State on Saturday, both at UCSD. The Men, also at #13, are headed to Hawaii for match-ups with BYU Hawaii, top-ranked Hawaii Pacific, and Hawaii Hilo beginning Friday, February 17.
Images: UCSD Athletics