San Diego State upset Brigham Young University in the finals of the women's Western Athletic Conference tennis finals and, according to Aztec coach Carol Plunkett, part of the credit should go to the University of Utah.
It was, she said after the tense 5-4 win over the Cougars, the close match against the Utes on Friday that also ended 5-4, that set the tone for Saturday's finals."(The Utah match) helped us a lot," she said. "It was to our advantage to play a pressure match before we met BYU," she admitted. BYU cruised through its semifinal match with the University of New Mexico on Friday, 5-1.
The Aztecs' matches against BYU and Utah were almost identical in nature. Both went to 3-3 in singles and both went down to a third set in doubles.
The loss marks the first time in six years that BYU and Utah haven't finished one-two, respectively, in conference finals. This was also the first time the three schools have met together to decide a champion and the first WAC tournament. Past seasons BYU and Utah were in the High Country Athletic Conference and San Diego in the Big West Conference.
In a match earlier in the day, Utah played and beat New Mexico for third place. The Utes won five of the six singles matches.
Even though BYU had beaten San Diego earlier in the year, 6-3, consensus was that this go-round would be tougher.
The Cougars jumped out to a 3-1 lead in singles. After splitting sets at Nos. 5 and 6 singles, Sue Hawke and Tanya Lauer put the Aztecs back in the title chase with third-set victories.
BYU's wins came from Jennifer Holmes over Eva Olivarez, 6-4, 6-4; Sarah Mugnaini over Nicole Storto, 6-0, 6-3; and Lesley Barbour over Paige Hammond, 0-6, 6-0, 6-2.
San Diego's Dorey Brandt and Storto, ranked No. 13 nationally in doubles, then beat BYU's Evica Kolijanin and Mugnaini, 6-3, 6-4.
Nos. 2 and 3 doubles then split sets. BYU needed both of the final sets to win, San Diego just one.
The Aztecs' Hammond and Olivarez decided it by beating Federica Lentini and Maddy Deikmann, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2. On a neighboring court, BYU's Anissa Robinson and Monika Kobilikova kept it close by beating Hawke and Shawn Egan, 7-6, 3-6, 6-4.
BYU's coach Ann Valentine said she knew it would be close, and that to be safe the Cougars needed a lead coming out of singles.
"We've had trouble with doubles this year. We're just not as strong at doubles as we have been in the past. I think we were defensive today, too. We didn't come out and go on the offense."
The win also secured Plunkett honors as the WAC's Coach of the Year and Olivarez as its Player of the Year.