The Arizona women’s tennis team is finally beginning to see itself as head coach Vicky Maes saw it all along.
After a disappointing 2013 season full of narrow defeats and disappointing results, the Wildcats returned with a team intact, but even a 10-1 start didn’t kick-start the swagger. Finally, the team turned the mirror on itself after a 6-1 win at Washington on March 9 and liked what it saw, though they wouldn’t show it — much.
“Even at 14-1, some of our kids were still a little surprised,” Maes said. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?! I expected this! You should too. … We needed a win they felt was a big win. For me, every win was a big win. But they needed to see it. Washington really did it.
“And that’s when they started going: ‘We can really do this.’”
The hot start boosted the Wildcats so that after a rocky 2-4 stretch in brutal Pac-12 play, there was still enough left in the tank Saturday against Arizona State.
The 31st-ranked Wildcats dealt the 22nd-ranked Sun Devils an upset defeat as Arizona won 4-2, coming back from a doubles deficit to dominate the singles.
Senior Lacey Smyth capped off the win with a three-set victory over No. 65-ranked Stephanie Vlad, Smyth’s fourth win at the No. 1 spot over a ranked opponent this year.
The team will now head to Ojai, Calif., for the Pac-12 Championships. The four-day tournament begins Thursday.
“To go out in style the way we did against Arizona State gives us confidence going into the postseason,” Maes said. “The girls talked about the match for so long that really, they didn’t give the tournament a whole lot of thought. We cared so much about this game, and having been able to do that, to take care of business the way we had to, if that doesn’t give us confidence, nothing will.”
Now the focus has turned to the Pac-12 championship tournament, where the Wildcats can improve their seeding. Arizona will have its chance at revenge against the league’s elite teams, four of which — Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC —handed the Wildcats their conference losses on the road this year.
“I felt we really had our chances against Cal, but out of the four, the one I was most disappointed about was USC,” Maes said. “I said, ‘Do you girls have any idea that we are stronger than USC and you need to know this?’ That was the one and only time I was disappointed, because the confidence was gone against USC.”
Even worse, the match immediately preceded the Senior Day showdown with Arizona State.
That made the Wildcats’ regular season-ending triumph so sweet, and why the conference tournament comes at just the right time.
“Besides the pure joy, it was admittedly relief,” Maes said. “I knew they were nervous playing us, and because of the rivalry, the Territorial Cup (points), seniors, parents who came from all over the world. Our kids really kept it together, and that is an experience that will help us in the postseason.”