The University of Utah women's tennis team is looking forward to its second year under head coach Megan Dorny in 2003-04. With one year of directing the program under her belt, Dorny has set big goals for the upcoming season. "I would really like to see us finish in the top four of our conference this season, and break into the top 75," she says.
As a former assistant coach of two years and a standout player at Utah, Dorny possesses an impeccable knowledge and experience of the game, as well as the Utah program. Dorny's background also enables her to relate well with her players on a personal level. "I echo what I see in my own team. I have the ability to work hard and have been where they are going," she states.
Dorny's successful career at Utah ended with a No. 55 ranking nationally and a No.1 ranking in the ITA central region for university players. In addition to her time on the Utah coaching staff, Dorny also has prior instructional experience at the SLST Club and the Snowbird Canyon Racquetball Club.
Rejoining the University of Utah coaching staff is Ruth Ann Escobedo, who begins her sixth year as assistant coach with the Utes. She served as assistant to former head coach John Tsumas for four years, and joined Dorny last year when she began her reign as head coach. This one time Ute All-American and tennis teaching professional of 13 years brings a lot of experience to the Utah tennis program. "Her experience in doubles, along with her strong technical background, will help the girls' skill development tremendously," states Dorny.
Last year, the Utes ended the season with a 7-16 overall record, and placed seventh during the Mountain West Conference regular season with a 1-6 league record and sixth in the conference tournament. Only three players returned from last season, however, as Utah has added a new group of talent to the roster.
Leading the team this season is senior captain, Sheri Esrock. "She does a great job leading the team on and off the court," emphasizes Dorny. The veteran Esrock finished last year with the best singles record on the team 15-13. As the only senior of the group, Esrock has the most experience on the court.
"She is comfortable in her position and has the most high-level playing experience," says Dorny. Esrock will contribute greatly to the Utes' success this year, as a leader and as a player. "She is competitive at any spot she plays, and this will translate into wins for us," proclaims Dorny.
Also returning to round out the tri-captains are Rachel Alder and Allison Hansen. Hansen, a junior, from Salt Lake's East High School, played mostly at the No. 5 spot last year and compiled a 14-16 singles record, which was second best on the team. She played at the No. 1 position in doubles last season , and will be a big impact on the Utes' doubles lineup this year. Dorny describes Hansen as one of the hardest workers on the team. "She is a solid player all the way around, as well as a good leader," says Dorny.
Alder, also a native of the Salt Lake area, joined the Utes during the 2002-03 season. Alder made the lineup in her first year and played mainly at the No. 4 spot. The aggressive baseliner brings height and experience to the team. "Rachel has a very complete game and the ability to hit the ball hard," explains Dorny.
The Utes welcome six new players to the lineup this year. Looking toward the future of Utah tennis, Dorny is confident that the new recruits will be a great addition to the team. "Ruth Ann and I have done a good job getting talent. We recruited players based on their potential and ability. We have six young players that will grow together and be a polished team in a few years," proclaims Dorny.
One recruit, Whitney Eber, comes to Utah from Florida. "Whitney takes tennis very seriously and is extremely competitive. She is also the most consistent hard hitter on the team," explains Dorny. The Utes are excited to have Eber on the team this season. "She is fun loving and a great team player," says Dorny.
Jenessa Jackson joins the team this year after transferring from San Diego State and will start as a freshman. Dorny is confident that Jackson will substantially impact the lineup. "Jenessa is one of the hardest hitters and hardest workers on the team," states Dorny.
A top recruit for Utah is Cinthia Saucedo from Mexico. Dorny feels that Saucedo possesses multiple playing strengths because she has the ability to hit the ball extremely hard, but has soft hands at the net. "Her finesse is unmatched," explains Dorny. "She has placement at the net that is as good as I've seen. Cinthia has a ton of ability and the potential to be a top 100 ranked player."
Jessica Watts, a Utah native, joins the Utes and brings a wealth of playing experience to the young team. Dorny was impressed with Watts's great results in sectionals when recruiting her, and describes her as a feisty player. Watts has recovered from a broken foot she suffered in the summer and has begun playing again. "We are working to get her competitive," says Dorny.
Jen Wencel comes to Utah from Texas. With the ability to close on the net, Wencel is expected to have a large impact in doubles play. "Jen has a knowledge of defense and she knows how to construct points," says Dorny. Wencel will also be a big asset in the singles. "She is extremely consistent, and I expect her to be dominant in our lower lineup," states Dorny.
The Utes welcome another Utah native, Ashley Young from Orem, Utah. Young stood out in the first fall tournament when she advanced to the semifinals of the Park City Open. "Ashley has already proven to measure up quite well," explains Dorny. "She is one of the best athletes on the team and has great hand-eye coordination."
So far, Dorny is satisfied with the attitude and desire of her new players. "The young girls are excited to be here and it is rubbing off on everyone," she says. Dorny and Escobedo will work hard this year on building the recruits' confidence and learning where they will play best. "We have to get talents and energies directed in the right way this year," states Dorny.
Utah has scheduled matches against a number of teams within the region and across the nation. Dorny is excited about the schedule and feels it is more balanced this year. "In years past, we have played top 20 teams that we knew would be tough wins. This year we are playing teams more comparable to our ability," she states.
The Utes begin conference play on Feb. 13 when they match up against BYU at home. Utah will be on the road for most of its conference competition, which includes, UNLV, Wyoming, and Colorado State. Matches against San Diego, Air Force, and New Mexico will be played on neutral courts. Competition concludes with the Mountain West Conference Championships April 29 to May 1 in San Diego, Calif. The highest nationally ranked team in the conference last year was San Diego State, which finished in the top 20. Twelve other matches will be played against teams which were ranked between 25 and 75. "I believe any team ranked from 25 to 75 are teams we can beat, and every team on our schedule would be a good win," says Dorny.
Preparing for the 2003-04 season, Dorny strives to build a lineup that is strong from the middle to the bottom. "The girls are hard workers and pretty even in ability, but we need to get comfortable in positions to be successful," she states.
Dorny also wants to focus the players' attention to teamwork. "Tennis is an individual sport, but it is important to decide from this moment on that we're going to act as a team," she emphasizes. Dorny believes that the team attitude is much improved from last year, and this will also contribute to Utah's success.
Although the Utes' roster consists of only three returnees and six newcomers, Dorny feels her team has the drive and ability to make an impact in both the conference and the region, and possibly break into national rankings. "We are a young team," she explains, "but we are a very talented team."