AZUSA, Calif.-- Coming off of its most successful regular season in over a decade, the Azusa Pacific women’s tennis team is entering uncharted territory. The Cougars, who return three of their top-seven from their 18-4 2012 season, are leaving the friendly confines of the Golden State Athletic Conference and moving into the Pacific West Conference.
Azusa Pacific, however, won’t be making the trek alone as fellow former GSAC programs Point Loma and Fresno Pacific are entering the PacWest after being one of the Cougars’ toughest conference foes over the past decade. Add them to a PacWest that features two top-10 teams (NCAA Division II) in BYU-Hawaii (No. 2) and Hawaii Pacific (No. 6) in addition the 14th rated Grand Canyon and it’s easy to see why the Cougars will have their hands full in one of the toughest tennis leagues in the nation.
“This entire region is brutal for women’s tennis. BYU-Hawaii is probably the most established team. Fresno Pacific, Hawai’i Pacific, and Grand Canyon are all really tough. It’s a real difficult conference on the women’s side, and we’re excited about that,” said head coach Mark Bohren. “In the past we’ve had those matches where we knew going into it that we had the upper hand. Going forward those aren’t really going happen. We’ll have to be ready to play every match.”
Fortunately the team returns junior captain Emily Harris, who will help lead the Cougars into the new conference as the No. 1 singles player. The Scottsdale, Ariz. native won 19 of her 20 matches in 2012 and will enter the new season riding a team-best 14-match win streak. Sophomore Danae Ingwaldson will likely compete for the No. 2 role after compiling a 16-5 record in 2012, and ending the season winning seven of her final 10 matches.
Also coming back to the lineup will be Kim Koetterheinrich, Bethany Duval, and Stephanie Duval. Koetterheinrich went 18-0 in doubles play, while Quan and Duval combined to finish with a 6-0 clip in singles action. That trio of returners will help fill the void for a team that lost its No. 1, No. 2, No. 4 and No. 6 singles players from a season ago. Bohren feels how the Cougars fare with so much turnover will depend on the team’s mental makeup and leadership.
“If this team takes the image of its captain, they’ll be really successful and win a lot of matches. Emily’s worked the girls really hard as a captain. I think we’ll do surprisingly well. I have a good feeling about it and I’m pretty excited to see how they compete,” said Bohren.
And while much is unknown about how the newcomers will fill in, the team is excited about how much new talent is entering such a young lineup. In the offseason the Cougars added a pair of NCAA Division I transfers in Brejohn McCrary and Stephanie Kaneta, while freshman Lindsey Yeom is coming off an impressive prep career.
As Azusa Pacific’s No. 3 singles player, Harris recorded a 19-1 record and was ranked 39th in the NAIA at the end of the 2012 season. Harris, who enters her junior year as the ITA’s 17th ranked NCAA Division II player, is riding a 14-match winning streak and will compete atop the lineup. In her three previous matches at No. 1 she has logged a 2-1 record. Harris showed her mental toughness over the course of her 14-match spree, and her ability to mix it up will help lead the Cougars against some of the nation’s best.
Ingwaldson registered a 16-5 record in her first season of collegiate tennis, including an 11-3 record as the team's No.5. The Cougars won all but two matches in the No. 2 slot in 2012, leaving a large vacancy for Inglwadson. The sophomore has yet to play at No. 2, but did boast an undefeated record in three matches as the No. 3. Her athleticism and power will help ease the transition.
McCrary, who was one of the biggest additions to Azusa Pacific's lineup, is a transfer from Cal State Northridge, where she redshirted in 2012. McCrary was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school in 2010, and will likely slide into the lineup as the Cougars' No. 3 singles player. Her speed and athleticism make her a tough out, and her left-handed serve gives her a unique advantage.
Before transferring from DePaul University Kaneta won three singles matches as a freshman to help DePaul finish in third place in the Big East Conference. As a strong athlete, who ran track for the Blue Demons, Kaneta brings a lot of tennis experience to the lineup. She prepped at Weil Tennis Academy in Ojai, and despite not playing competitive tennis in over a year, is a very natural, heady player.
Yeom was the Cougars’ only freshman addition as Azusa Pacific moves into the PacWest. She was rated as the No. 3 high school tennis recruit in Oregon out of high school. Her defensive abilities at the baseline will make her tough to break down, and through the preseason has shown that she can hit winners with both her forehand and backhand.
Koetterheinrich won nine of her 13 singles matches in 2012, and will look to improve upon that record in the upcoming season. Koetterheinrich, who has one of the most powerful playing styles on the team, has one of the Cougars’ best serves. She’ll battle with Duval and Quan for the 6th spot for the beginning of the season.
As a freshman Duval saw limited time on the court, but still managed to excel when called on. The sophomore finished with a 4-0 record in singles action, boasting a 6-0, 6-0 sweep against Biola. The Palo Cedro native has a strong forehand and serve, and has all the talent to compete for the Cougars.
The junior played in only two singles matches in 2012, but won both. Quan notched a 6-3, 6-1 win in the No. 5 slot against Biola, and recorded a 6-0, 6-0 sweep in the team’s win over Hope International. Quan is a smart player, who balances her excellent footwork with quickness and athleticism.
Harris and Inglwadson look to open the season atop the doubles lineup. The duo, ranked 10th in NCAA Division II, went 6-5 last year, including a 5-2 record in GSAC play. Kaneta and McCrary are slated to pair as the No. 2 team, while Koetterheinrich and Yeom should get the nod at No. 3. In 2012 Koetterheinrich was unstoppable in doubles play, finishing with an 18-0 record. The junior will look to continue that streak when the Cougars open on Friday against Point Loma.
The Cougars are leaving the NAIA’s best tennis conference for what is considered by many as Division II’s toughest league. The PacWest boasts perennial powers BYU-Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific, along with a Grand Canyon program that’s consistently rated in the top-15 nationally. Adding the likes of Fresno Pacific, Point Loma, and Azusa Pacific only strengthen a conference that will have one of the country’s best championship tournaments when the teams converge on Honolulu, Hawaii on April 18-20.