The BYU men's tennis team is working its way up the ladder. The BYU women's team is there and, if
it gets any better, will need help balancing.
The Cougar women are currently ranked No. 7 in the country. And, given a shot at some of the higher seeds, could easily move up. They're that good.How good?
"I've got eight singles players who can go out and compete with anyone in the country. And I've got four doubles teams that can do the same. Our strength is in our depth, and right now we're deep - very deep," said Clark Barton, 2nd-year coach of the women's team.
The men, now, are in a little different position. They are, as their latest 7-0 win over the University of Utah shows, getting better.
Still, at this point they're only a "possible" contender for the WAC title. And, while the women have a direct line to the NCAA finals, the men will have to bounce a bunch of higher seeded teams to make it.
"The WAC it extremely strong this year," said Jim Osborne, the BYU men's coach. "I'd say it's the third strongest conference in the country behind the Pac 10 and Southeast. There are legitimately eight or nine teams in the league with a shot at the WAC title. There are no easy teams anymore."
Barton thought his team would be good, but then things started to fall in place and he soon realized they'd be great.
First, he landed the No. 1 recruit in the country - Holly Parkinson of Houston, Texas. Already playing for the Y. was a player ranked in the top 30 - Eline Chiew of Malaysia.
Returning after surgery was Jodi Richardson of Australia. Then, like Christmas in the fall, two more of Australia's top players signed on with the Cougars - Tara Reid and Brooke Leavens.
If that weren't enough, he looked down the line and saw four of Utah's top products on his roster - Adrien Jenkins of Ogden, Kim Kelly of Salt Lake City, Tara Ferguson of Provo and Shari Smith of Layton.
Better still, only one is a senior, one a junior, three are sophomores and four are freshmen.
"We young, very young, and yet at this point we can compete with any school in the country," admitted Barton.
Parkinson was the most highly recruited player in the country. And, said Barton, not likely to come to BYU in the beginning.
"Then, the more she looked at the program and saw what we had to offer, such as a very strong schedule, she decided on BYU," he said.
"The best thing is that since she's arrived she's improved tremendously. She's winning matches now that she probably wouldn't have a few months back. She plays smarter. She used to either blow players off the court or she'd struggle. Now she eases into a match, mixes up her shots and puts more spin on her shots."
Last year Chiew played in the No. 1 spot and, said Barton, was under a lot of pressure. Still, among her wins was one over the No. 1 player in the country, the same player that went on to win the NCAA title. This year, playing in No. 2, she's unbeaten in dual matches - 20-0.
Jenkins is playing No. 3 for BYU and is currently ranked in the Top 100. At one point she was 39th in the country.
Against all recommendations, Barton put Jenkins and Chiew on the same side of the net in doubles. And, again things fell into place. The two are now playing No. 1 doubles and against some of the best teams in the country are 19-12.
Reid, Richardson, Kelly, Leav-ens and Ferguson have been filling out the lower half of the six-person draw.
The Cougars only two losses this year have been to No. 3 Duke and No. 4 Georgia.
But now, said Barton, "I'd like another shot at them. I like our chances if we were to play them again.'
The women will begin the WAC on April 29 in Fort Worth, Texas. They will then host the NCAA Regionals from May 15-17. In all likelihood, however, they probably won't need to play. The top 10 teams receive an automatic invite to the NCAA finals in South Bend, Ind.
The BYU men's team started off slowly but has picked up steam, as the win over Utah shows.
The team has now won six of its last seven dual matches, the only loss coming to No. 1 Stanford. One of the wins was over WAC foe Tulsa, which was ranked No. 37.
Here, too, Osborne is quick to give credit for his latest successes to "depth."
"We're strong in all positions right now. If we were to have any injuries, we've got players who can step up and fill their spots without any trouble," Osborne said.
Playing No. 1 for the Cougars is Brad McIntosh, a senior from Australia. His strength is his big serve and strong forehand.
No. 2 is Jason Hardin, also a senior, from Alaho, Ore. Hardin brings to a court a strong all-around game, which makes him difficult to beat.
Filling out the roster are Manuel Calvo of Mexico; Benji Rideout of Alta High; Jeff Easton of Brighton High; Shawn Hiatt of Santa Maria, Calif.; Damien Ward of Australia; Jeff Harback of Henderson, Nev.; Matt Stohl of Salt Lake; Stuart Beauchamp of Australia; and Nic Losee of Provo.
The men's team will play in the WAC in Tulsa, April 22-25.