Dec. 4, 1997
Back on Top
A program that doesn't settle for a conference championship - which it has won an inconceivable 10 straight - or even an NCAA Championships appearance. A program that is judged each year by nothing less than whether or not it won a national championship. This is the Stanford University women's tennis program. What would seem to an unfair standard to burden is rather the driving force behind each and every Stanford squad. It is the pride they display the desire behind their play.
After winning eight national championships in a 10-year span, including six straight from 1986-91, the Cardinal had gone into a slump by its own standards. From 1992-96, there were no championships. Instead, the Cardinal settled, so to speak, for three second place and two third place national finishes. Getting back to the top was becoming more and more important with each passing year. In 1997, it made it. The Cardinal returned to the pinnacle of the collegiate ranks and for the seventh time in the last 12 years, it enters the season as the defending national champions.
"I thought it was very important for the program to get back into that situation (winning a national championship) again," said head coach Frank Brennan. "We are one of those programs where we judge our success by whether we win the national championship or not. That may seem ridiculous, but that is what's happened. We've been fortunate enough to win the Pac-10 Conference, but the NCAA title is what we point toward. It was important for me, for the players. We had a class graduate without getting a national championship ring and we don't like to see that happen. So now we're back on track and I just think it keeps Stanford up there in the eyes of the opposing players and coaches, saying that Stanford, if they ever have a chance to win it, they're going to win it."
With a successful mix of proven veterans, rising young stars and perhaps the finest coach in the history of the collegiate game, the 1997-98 Cardinal squad has a chance.
All-American Julie Scott posted a 46-5 record a year ago. (File photo)
Leading the squad and filling out the top of the ladder will be returning All-American's Julie Scott, Anne Kremer and Ania Bleszynski, and Teryn Ashley, one of the nation's top up-and-coming players.
"Right now, I think our strength is that we have very good players on top," said Brennan. "We may not be as strong as we were last year depth wise. We may not have a Julie Scott and Teryn Ashley at No. 5 and No. 6 like we did last year, but I like our lineup. I think we'll be pretty darn good."
Scott, a senior from Austin, Tex., is coming off the finest season of her career in which she recorded a 46-5 overall record. She establised a new school record for dual match victories in a single-season with 29. An All-American performer in both singles and doubles, she has made a name for herself as possibly the greatest clutch player in Stanford's storied history. Seeded alphabetically in last year's NCAA singles tournament, Scott reached the semifinals, toppling third-seeded Vanessa Webb of Duke 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-4 in a three-plus hour match along the way. Scott, the two-time defending Pac-10 singles champion, enters the season as the nation's fifth-ranked singles player. It is not only her ability, but her dedication that makes her a standout player. Last season, she earned the ITA/Cissie Leary Award for Sportsmanship - an award given to a junior or senior player who best demonstrates an inspiring commitment and dedication to her team.
"Julie had a great year - a storybook year," said Brennan. "She'll be one of the best players in the country - she's already proven that - and a force to be reckoned with. I couldn't be happier for her."
Kremer is widely considered to be the top player in the nation. Very talented and highly competitive, she brings world class experience to the squad. The sophomore from Hesperange, Luxembourg enters the season ranked eighth in the nation and holds the highest professional ranking of any collegiate player (No. 128). This past summer in the Bank of the West Classic, Kremer defeated the 10th-ranked player in the world in Mary Pierce, and then at Wimbledon, she played a great match (6-4, 6-4) against Martina Hingis, the No. 1 player in the world.
Bleszynski is one of the best doubles players in the nation, garnering All-American honors for the second consecutive year in '97. In singles, the senior out of Thousand Oaks, Calif. had a bit of a down year last season and will be looking to regain the form that made her one of the best singles players in the country as a sophomore.
"Ania is looking to rebound from a tough junior year," said Brennan. "She hasn't forgotten how to play tennis. She was one of the top five players in the nation her sophomore year and I think when she gets a little confidence back, she'll return to that level again."
One of the most promising a gifted players on the squad is sophomore Teryn Ashley. She turned in a sensational freshman campaign, going undefeated in dual-match play (23-0), playing primarily in the No. 5 and No. 6 spots. With the combination of hard work and having a year of experience under her belt, Ashley appears set for a breakthrough year.
"Teryn is probably the most improved player on the team and has really showed some added maturity - working very hard and utilizing her great talent," said Brennan. "She is probably the most gifted talent-wise on the team and is starting to realize that through hard work, she can achieve her goals."
Anne Kremer is widely considered to be the top player in the nation. (File photo)
While the top is loaded, the five-through-seven positions measure up close behind. With sophomore Jennifer Heiser, seniors Heidi Stalla and Sophy Woodhouse, and freshmen Sarah Pestieu and Julia Sherbakov, the Cardinal have a contingent that can put it over the top in tight matches.
Along with Ashley, Heiser has shown tremendous improvement. Her strong showings in the summer collegiate events and in the fall season have boosted her confidence and have prepared the Stockton, Calif. native to step in and make an impact.
"Jen is very much improved," said Brennan. "She played in a lot of the summer college tournaments and had some good wins and some real good losses. We are looking for her to make a large contribution and she's showed us that she has the capability of doing just that."
Pestieau has proven to be a diamond in the rough. She fared extremely well in her first tournament at the college level - the fall Northwest Rolex Regional. She advanced to the fourth round in singles action and teamed with Heiser to teach the double's semifinals.
"Sarah has been a pleasant surprise," said Brennan. "I never saw her play in person so I didn't know much about her. But she is very athletic, has very quick hands and feet and will certainly help us in both singles and doubles."
Stalla and Woodhouse are both former walk-ons who are entering their final year. Each has improved over the course of their careers and appear ready for the competition.
"Both are coming along nicely and are working to get themselves ready," said Brennan. "They're both in their senior year - like the seventh game of the World Series - don't hold anything back.
Sherbakov rounds out the squad. A local Nor Cal circuit and high school standout, she come to The Farm as a walk-on who provides a tremendous positive attitude ad work ethic.
"Julia is a good, solid player who works hard and fits in nicely with the team," said Brennan. "She is providing good competition and good practice and has been a big asset to the team."
In doubles, the Cardinal also stack up well. Scott and Bleszynski enter the season as the third-ranked doubles team in the nation while Kremer and Ashley form the nation's 15th-ranked team. Both tandems have performed well in the fall season. Scott and Bleszynski captured the consolation title at the Riviera All-American Championships while Kremer and Ashley claimed the Rolex Regional title by defeating their teammates. Rounding out the doubles lineup will Pestieau and Heiser. Playing together for the first time in the Rolex Regional, the pair proved to be a nice complement to each other, advancing to the semifinals where they fell to Bleszynski and Scott.
The squad is ready for the upcoming season and primed to defend their crown in what should prove to be a tremendously exciting and competitive season.
"It's going to be a battle, both in the conference and on the national scene," said Brennan. "Competition is good for you. As they say, that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
When all is said and done, no matter how strong the competition, the standard will always remain intact. It is the legacy of the Stanford women's tennis program, the driving force behind the 1997-98 Cardinal squad.