When the High Country Athletic Conference tennis finals get underway, upset-minded teams will have their sights on BYU and Utah, in that order.
The two teams are, again, favorites. They are the only two in the tournament currently recognized by national powers. And, they come into this event as the reigning champion (BYU) and runner-up (Utah).In fact, since the conference started the Cougars have dominated, with strong support from Utah. Utah won the title in 1983, then BYU has followed five straight times. The last four times Utah was runner-up.
Play will begin on Thursday and end on Saturday on the outdoor courts on the Cougar campus. Other teams involved are New Mexico, New Mexico State, UTEP, Utah State and Colorado State.
According to assistant BYU coach Keith Nielson, the Cougars will jump off one of the toughest schedules ever faced by the women's team and into the conference finals. BYU is ranked No. 12 nationally, is 19-9 this season and has played 20 of the nations top 25 teams. Last year they dominated play, winning eight of the nine individual titles. The ninth was won by Utah.
Three BYU players will go into play with national rankings - Mary Beth Young is No. 16, Susanna Lee is No. 36 and Michelle Taylor is No. 53. Young and Taylor are ranked No. 11 in doubles.
This year the Utes go in as a much better team. For the first in the school's history it will carry a national ranking in with them - No. 18.
The Utes, too, have played a very tough schedule, noted coach John Tsumas. They are currently 12-10 and have played 15 of the top 25 teams. And they came within a game of upsetting No. 3 UCLA.
The Utes' Michelle Mras is ranked No. 49 in singles and Susie Costa is ranked No. 18 in doubles.
This will be Utah State's second appearance in the conference finals. Last year the Aggies were sixth. This year, said coach Kirk Jensen, "we're a better team. Our objective this year is to do better than last year."
A rundown of the players follows.
Lee, a senior, is a two-time All-America. She is a baseliner who is noted for her consistency and mental toughness. . . . Young, a junior, and has beaten some outstanding players this year. She hits excellent ground strokes and this year has learned to follow it in for the volley . . . Taylor, a senior, likes to chip and charge the net. She's a strong serve and volley player, and considered the best doubles player on the team . . . Anna Funderburk, a freshman, is a baseline player with unusual accuracy from the backcourt . . . Maddy Diekmann, another frosh, is consistent from the backcourt.
Mras is 13-9 and has posted 10 good wins over players ranked in the top 100 this year. She has a strong backhand and is known as a real fighter . . . Ruth Ann Stevens, a freshman, is 5-15. Before coming to Utah she went undefeated her entire four years at Brighton High. She is a strong serve and volley player . . . Julie Kempin is 3-17. She, too, grew up on local tennis. She has a strong forehand and a great volley . . .
Stefanie Richheimer transferred to USU this year. She is 10-9, is a backcourt player who tuned up her accuracy from playing on the clay course in the Netherlands . . . Tracie Hover was the state's 3A champ and this year has a 9-8 record. She's a good athlete and a solid serve and volley player . . . Tracy Myers is 11-7 and is known to have an almost technically perfect game . . .