Young Zags Strive for New Heights in 2017
Jan. 26, 2017
SPOKANE, Wash.--Head coach D.J. Gurule needs only two words to describe his Gonzaga women's tennis team, and one of them is fierce.
The other? Young.
And young the Zags certainly are. Seven of the eight players are underclassmen -- including three freshmen -- and the Bulldog with the most seniority isn't a senior. The role of elder stateswoman and team captain falls to junior Alex Bourguignon, who's been with the squad for two years. But even with the combined collegiate experience of a super senior, the Zags have a formidable amount of playing time returning for the 2017 dual season.
"Our tagline this year has been, 'oh we're young,' but that's a little bit of a falsity in the sense that we have a lot of people with match experience," said Gurule. "Even the three freshmen played a lot of matches, got a good amount of matches in the fall. I think we have the benefit of being experienced while being pretty young."
Gonzaga returns five players from 2016's record-breaking squad, and all five of them spent every match in the singles lineup. Sophomore Sophie Whittle, who played No. 1 singles all year, comes into her second year with having faced some of the best players in the nation. She's also getting recognized for her skills too, earning the program's first national ranking in singles play by the International Tennis Association and Preseason All-WCC honors by the West Coast Conference. Besides Bourguignon and Whittle, the Zags also return Nevada Apollo (21 wins last season and 11 in dual play), Graciela Rosas (19 and 14), and Domonique Garley (25 and 16).
Those five helped lead the Bulldogs to the program's best season ever last year. They took second place in the WCC standings -- their highest-ever finish -- and reached the conference semifinals for the first time as well. Garley's 25 wins broke a single-season record, and Whittle and partner Samantha Polayes became the first Zags to earn First Team All-WCC in doubles play.
After losing three seniors from last year's team to graduation, the Zags have also established a unique sense of ownership amongst the squad. While Bourguignon is the captain, she is not the only one tasked with making sure everyone is working towards the same goal.
"Very rarely is there only one person saying `hey, this isn't what we normally do,'" said Gurule. "It's a collaborative whole-based focus. Everyone steps into a role. The team understands what we expect, what they expect out of each other, what they expect out of us as coaches. I think it's a good mix of personalities that are heading into the right direction."
That mentality brings Gurule back to his first assessment of his team: it's tenacity on the court.
"I think we're fierce, I think we're competitive," he said of his squad. "We see it every day in practice. They're trying their best to knock off each other and push each other to their limits. That's one thing we stress: we don't care if they win or lose, but we want to compete. That's what we want to pride ourselves in. That's our biggest strength: that we will not go away."
Last year, Gonzaga's combination of fierceness and skill elevated the program to new heights. This season, five singles players return, and they're bolstered by Katie Day, Kate Ketels, and Haruna Tsuruta in a quest for more unprecedented territory: the NCAA Tournament.
"We feel [last season] is a stepping stone," said Gurule. "There's a lot of things last year that we didn't succeed in doing on the national scale that we really have our sights on this year. We need to develop a national resume that will look good to the NCAA selection committee. It was great setting records, but that's definitely not even close to where we think we can be."
Gonzaga's quest for an NCAA Tournament berth begins Sunday when the Bulldogs host Wyoming. That match will begin at 9:00 a.m. inside The Stevens Center.
Week One Game Notes
NEW YEAR, SAME SINGLES LINEUP (ALMOST):
GONZAGA VS. WYOMING: A HISTORY:
KNOW THE BOUNCE, WIN THE MATCH:
GETTING THAT SWEET, SWEET PRE-SEASON PUB:
NO FIRST-MATCH JITTERS:
MUSINGS ON THE FALL:
02/14/2017 - Apollo Earns Weekly WCC Honor
02/11/2017 - Another Day, Another Sweep for WTEN
02/10/2017 - Zags Speed Through Sweep of Eastern Washington
02/08/2017 - Bulldogs to Host Two In-State Foes
01/29/2017 - WTEN Begins 2017 with Comeback Win
01/26/2017 - Young Zags Strive for New Heights in 2017
01/18/2017 - Whittle Named Preseason All-WCC
Men's Basketball02/25/2017Women's Basketball02/23/2017Women's Basketball02/23/2017Women's Basketball02/23/2017