Las Cruces, N.M.-After concluding the 2010-11 season with a 12-7 record and many positives, the New Mexico State University women's tennis team has much to look forward to for next season.
Head tennis coach Ivan Fernandez led the Aggies to an overall record of 12-7 in his first season as head coach. The 12-7 finish is the best record for the Aggies since finishing 17-6 in 2002 while playing in the Sun Belt Conference.
NM State finished the regular season 3-3 against Western Athletic Conference opponents, good for the No. 5 seed in the WAC tournament. NM State defeated No. 4 seed Idaho 4-2 in the first round of the tournament on April 28, but lost to No. 1 seed Boise State 4-0 in the semifinals on April 29. NM State finished the tournament tied for 3rd in the WAC, the best finish ever for the Aggies in the WAC since joining the conference in 2006.
The Aggies combined to win 81 singles matches and 46 doubles matches during the 2010-11 season. During the dual season, NM State received tremendous production from the middle of the singles lineup, with the No. 3, 4 and 5 positions combining for a 39-18 record. The Aggies earned a .632 winning percentage in doubles during the spring, helping the Aggies win a majority of the doubles points in the matches they played.
Despite losing the season-opener to UNLV in Las Vegas, Nev., on Jan. 21, NM State bounced back and put together a start of the season that has not been matched in years. The Aggies went on to win 6-straight matches to begin the season 6-1 for the first time since 2002 when the Aggies started off the season 14-1.
Every season holds opportunities for challenges just as it does for success. NM State hit a skid by dropping 3-straight matches after the 6-match winning streak.
"Our season was really up and down," Fernandez said. "When we beat Loyola Marymount, it was a good boost for our intensity."
The 4-3 win against Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, Calif., on March 25 put an end to a 3-match losing streak for NM State, the longest losing streak of the season for the Aggies.
Fernandez said one of the biggest turning points for the team was the weekend of April 8 in Reno, Nev., when the team played conference opponents Nevada and Boise State. The Aggies lost 5-2 in both matches, but the team came back with confidence that a score does not show.
"The conference matches in Nevada showed the girls they could compete with the top schools in the WAC," Fernandez said.
NM State returned to Las Cruces from Nevada with renewed intensity, winning the final three matches of the season. Two of the three wins came against conference opponents Louisiana Tech and Hawai'i.
"The Hawai'i win at home was key going into the tournament," Fernandez said. "It gave us the confidence to beat Idaho in the WAC tournament."
Various Aggies made significant achievements on the court during the 2010-11 season.
The Aggies' success started at the top of the lineup with team captain senior Isabela Kulaif. Kulaif transferred to NM State her sophomore season after spending her freshman season at UTEP. During her tenure at NM State, Kualif racked up over 90 wins in singles and doubles, all while playing at the top of the lineup. Kulaif was named to the All-WAC Transfer Team and was named WAC Player of the Week on Feb. 24 of 2010.
"Kulaif has been an integral part of this team and will always be remembered for her heart, desire, and fight on the court," Fernandez said. "She is one of those players who can't be replaced."
Junior Manon Sylvain swapped between the No. 1 and 2 spot during the season, proving to be a reliable anchor for the top of the lineup. Sylvain went 10-8 during the spring and 3-3 against conference opponents in singles. Sylvain went 9-9 in doubles during the spring, playing a majority of her matches with sophomore Jodie Williams at the No. 2 spot.
Sylvain was also named to the All-Tournament team for the WAC tournament. Sylvain went 1-1 in singles in the tournament, defeating Lauren Simpson of Idaho 6-0, 6-3, in the No. 2 match and lost to Sonia Klamczynska of Boise State 6-1, 6-1, in the semifinals of the WAC tournament.
Williams found success early in the season by winning the singles bracket of the Aggie Invitational in Las Cruces back on Sept. 19, 2010. Williams defeated Alexandra Glebova of UTEP 7-6, 0-6, 6-4, in the final match.
Junior Natalia Salum made her junior season a turnaround season for her, improving from 11-18 in singles from her sophomore season to 12-5 this season. Salum finished of the second half of the season on a hot streak, winning 8-straight matches from Feb. 15-April 7 and winning 11 of her last 12 singles matches.
"Natalia made a huge turnaround this season," Fernandez said. "She was definitely the most improved player this season."
Salum also teamed up with freshman Ros-Polly Nguyen in doubles to win many doubles matches together at the No. 3 spot. Salum and Nguyen went 13-3 together, winning their first seven matches playing together. The pair also finished the season on a 5-match winning streak together.
Freshman Annemieke Witte went 18-8 overall in singles and 14-5 in the spring. The 18 singles victories were an unmated team-high for the season. Witte is the first freshman to win at least 18 singles matches since Paulina Zuniga went 23-11 in the 2005-06 season.