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UCD’s Centre Court Starlets

 

(From left) Ellie Edles, Melissa Kobayakawa, Kelly Chui and Shawdee Rouhafza.

My name is Paulo Camacho, and this is Macho Sports.

Out by the Memorial Union at UC Davis, next to the bus station, lies the Marya Welch Tennis Center. Many students park right by the complex for easy access to classes, without giving it a second thought. While understated and unassuming in nature, the tennis courts at UC Davis house, quite possibly, some of the finest student-athletes on campus.

The 2010-2011 UC Davis Women’s Tennis team has managed to combine young talent and valuable experience to create, arguably, the best squad the Aggies have seen in decades. So far, the Aggie women have racked up an impressive 9-2 record, losing matches only to powerhouse programs in the Pac-10. Since their two losses to Arizona State and Stanford, UC Davis has piled up a seven-game winning streak. Their unprecedented play was highlighted by key wins versus CSU Northridge – their first win against the Titans in 15 years – and defending Big West champion, UC Irvine – their first ever win against the Anteaters.

“It’s been a great year,” said head coach Bill Maze. “Maybe the best team I’ve had in my time in Davis.”

Maze, an understated man with a laid-back and personable attitude, is entering his 16th year as UC Davis women’s head coach. Having spent two decades at the position, Maze knows that leading young women in a sport like tennis takes much more than training on the court. “I learned about 19 years ago, you should never say ‘That’s not my job’, because every coach has got many, many, many hats,” he explained. “Bus driver, psychologist, teacher, fundraiser, recruiter … It’s always your job – accept it, and do it willingly. No complaints.”

It was this attitude on the court that has earned the love and respect of his team. “Coach Maze is awesome,” beamed freshman Megan Heneghan. “He helps me so much in doubles, especially because I wasn’t that much of a doubles player, before. And now, I just feel so comfortable playing.”

“Bill’s a great coach,” added sophomore Ellie Edles. “He’s really easy to work with. He’s willing to take as much time as you need.”

Maze’s job is made that much easier, however, with the talent that the current team has displayed so far this season. Despite their relative youth – five of the team’s current six starters are freshmen or sophomores – they have shown composure on the court beyond their years. Many of them come in with much experience to begin with, having played competitive tennis since the age of nine. This has helped them all achieve major success at UC Davis.

“We’re really young, so we have a lot of room to grow,” said Edles. “We’re going to be strong for the next couple years.”

A prime example came early in the season, in a non-conference matchup against Iowa State. With UC Davis down to their final match and trailing, freshman Kelly Chui came from behind to win her match, and win the day for the Aggies. “When you have young women who are that young, you wonder how they can handle the pressure,” Maze remarked. “But, they’ve handled it incredibly well.”

The team’s young talent is embodied by their No. 1 starter, freshman Megan Heneghan. Originally from Tustin, Heneghan’s talent and poise has propelled her to the marquee spot. “I don’t love playing freshmen at #1, but she’s earned it, and she’s handling it very well,” Maze said about Heneghan. “When you work that hard, day in and day out, I think the accolades come.”

The accolades came for Heneghan, as she was named Big West Athlete of the Week, in Mid-February. “It was cool,” Heneghan said about learning of the feat. “The weekend before I got that news, we just beat teams in SoCal. I had some good wins down there, helping the team. That was an honor.”

UCD Freshman Megan Heneghan's play has been turning heads in the Big West.

Edles, a sophomore from Costa Mesa, has served as another talented starter for Maze’s Aggies. She owes her success to her family, most of which are tennis players. “My dad’s a coach at [rival school] UC Irvine, so I’ve grown up playing tennis,” she said. “It’s kind of strange [playing them every year], but I feel like I’ve gotten used to it a little bit more.” As the current No. 3 starter for the tennis team, she also won Big West Athlete of the Week honors in early February.

It is quite remarkable for a team like UC Davis to have this level of talent, especially considering their recruiting strategies. In a sport dominated by international players, the top programs in the state, and in the country, are rarely populated with local athletes. “We’re going to play Sac State soon, and not an American in sight, in the entire roster,” Maze explained. “And, they’re very, very good … The international student-athlete has made a bigger impact on tennis than any other sport.” The Aggies, meanwhile, are entirely made up of players from California. Incidentally, the majority of  the team’s starters hail from Southern California – a more competitive tennis environment, insists Maze.

And thus presents the challenge for their match against the Tigers of UOP. Despite coming into their March 4th meeting with a 3-4 record, the University of Pacific boasted an impressive roster, made up almost entirely of international players. They are highlighted by their No.1 player, Jenifer Widjaja, a former professional who played for a number of years in the WTA, before joining up with UOP. “I had a pretty close match with her,” said Dahra Zamudio, a Junior out of Orange, California, and the Aggies’ No. 2 starter. “I know how she plays … I think, as a team, we’re really prepared [for her].”

As Friday’s match approached, the Aggies looked to be prepared for the challenge. With the quality of their recent play, they were encouraged to keep their winning streak alive. Little did they know how much of a challenge Pacific would have in store for them.

TO BE CONTINUED …

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