The University of Utah women's tennis team is out to make a name for itself. A name, says Utah coach John Tsumas, that will lure top teams from around the country to the Utah courts.
To do it he took what was already a tough schedule and toughened it by two times. Or, instead of playing seven nationally ranked teams as the Utah ladies did in 1988, they will play 13 . . . "Most of them on the road," said Tsumas."Our goals are to become nationally ranked and to get an invitation to the NCAA Championships. To get to either one we have to play and beat at least five nationally ranked teams, I've been told. By doubling the number of nationally ranked teams then we stand a better chance of getting the wins we need.
"We have a good team this year and I think we're going to surprise a few people. We just have to stay confident. If we can make a name for ourselves and then other teams will want to come here to play us. With BYU and Utah, it would make a good trip for these teams."
The Lady Utes will open the 1989 season on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Canyon Racquet Club when they play Utah State. From there they will move south to California for a four-match stop against U.S. International University, Pepperdine (9th), UCLA (3rd) and San Diego State (20th). They will then return home for a match Jan. 29 against Colorado at the CRC.
Fall tournaments and early-season rankings would certainly support Tsumas' contention that his Lady Utes are, indeed, a stronger team.
Michelle Mras from Anaheim, Calif., one of four seniors, is currently ranked 23rd in the country in singles, which is the highest ranking ever attained by a member of the Utah team. Mras, along with partner Susan Costa, from Las Vegas, Nev., is also ranked 13th nationally in doubles.
Earlier this year the Tsumas-led Utes got the attention of the collegiate tennis world at the All-America Championships in Los Angeles. Among a field of 64 teams, Mras was one of only eight players to qualify. Better yet, Mras and Costa, and Ruth Ann Stevens and Julie Kempin, making up two of the Utes doubles teams, were among only four teams earning places in the main draw. Stevens and Kempin, a sophomore, are both from Salt Lake City.
"I just feel we have a lot of depth this year. Besides the players we have coming back, we brought in Ruth Ann and Lisa (Halversen). I do, I think we'll surprise a lot of teams this year," he said. Halversen is a freshman from Salt Lake City.
Leading the Utah charge is, of course, Mras. She's a strong singles and doubles player with some impressive wins already to her credit. She won the conference championship in 1987 and finished third last year.
Stevens was a major snag for the Utah team. She was a highly recruited player from Brighton High School, who became the first player in Utah history to play through four years of high school tennis undefeated.
One area that Tsumas is especially encouraged about is his doubles teams. Last year, he said, several matches went right down to last doubles.
"This year I feel our strength is in our doubles," he said. "We had good doubles teams last year, but this year I think they'll be great."
Adding to the Ute team will be Kristin Siegmund, a senior from Irvine, Calif.; Liz Fox, a senior from Salt Lake City; and Suzy Westfall, a senior from El Macero, Calif.
One thing that will help entice other teams to Utah will be the completion of its on-campus tennis courts. Tsumas said the indoor/outdoor facility will be completed sometime this summer.
Meanwhile, Tsumas and his Lady Utes will be out to make a name for themselves as a good team not to be taken too lightly.