Stevens: Lobo Women's Tennis -- 2013 Season Preview

Jan. 17, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Women's Tennis - 2013 Season Preview

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

It remains to be seen if Coach Erica Perkins Jasper can return the swagger to the University of New Mexico women's tennis program in her first year as a Lobo, but one thing is obvious.

The 2013 Lobos have some new muscles, a new work ethic and some new confidence. Now, will those three elements carry over to the scoreboard?

"Our coaches are changing our attitude and our work ethic and you can see we have improved," said senior Kristin Eggleston, who hails from Palm Desert, Calif. "It's exciting. We are hungry to go out and be more competitive."

The hunger is there for an obvious reason. These nine Lobos - all returners - have been mostly starved on the court when it came to winning.

Coach Jasper took over a 17-49 program that dropped 10 of 13 matches to close out the 2012 season. The Lobos won one home match last season and went 8-15 in 2011 and 8-13 in 2012. They went 1-6 in the Mountain West and fell out of the 2012 MW tourney in their first match.

And these Lobos are tired of all that.

"We will take the court with expectations to win," said Eggleston.

Obviously, there was a culture to change at the Linda Estes Sports Complex. The good news for Jasper is that she inherited a team of motivated Lobos. As coaches like to say, "They bought in."

"It's interesting inheriting a team where you have nine returners," said Jasper "You don't have to spend time educating them on what it's like to be a college tennis player. But we are running a different system and they have to adjust to different expectation in strength training, standards for practice, and expectations on how to compete in a match.

"Maybe we don't have a ton of experience in winning big matches, but there is a strong desire in these girls to be successful. They have been welcome to change and they want to get better."

The best way to change results on the scoreboard is to be better prepared to make those changes. Jasper has bumped up her Lobos' work ethic and also their expectations. But she isn't pushing a win-win-win attitude.

"I think it's important with a group that hasn't won a lot of matches to stay away from putting a ton of emphasis on winning and losing," said Jasper "We will focus on the process-related goals and things we can control.

"That includes preparation, training, how they compete in a match. We want them to come out there with a new level of positivity and work ethic. We are more interested in how they play than we are in the end result. They don't need the pressure of winning and losing. Not yet."

The growth in this program under Jasper demanded change. One change has been conditioning. Jasper's squad was turned over to strength coach Molly McKinnon, who receives rave reviews from the athletes she conditions.

"She's been tough, but we are getting better and stronger," said Eggleston. "We are running more and harder. We are lifting more weights. There is just a push to improve."

Said Coach Jasper: "I think the biggest thing for these girls has been the work load and the intensity of the work load. Molly is phenomenal and she has really pushed the girls.

"On the court, I've always run physical and intense practices and there is a new discipline required that maybe they haven't had before. But this is a terrific group of girls. They have a strong desire to work hard and get better."

The Lobos obviously have some talent - and experienced depth. Junior Michaela Bezdickova and sophomore Maria Sablina were named to the 2012 All-Mountain West team.

Jasper has three seniors in Eggleston, Michaela Oldani and Laura Richardson. There are three other sophomores - Sarah Mahboob Khan, Katie Wookey and Susanna Kuuttila - and one more junior in Nikolina Grbac. Jasper has a lot of talented bodies to move around. The shifting of this Lobo puzzle this spring season begins Jan. 18-20 at the Beach Tennis Winter Invitational in Long Beach, Calif.

No team scores will be kept, but Jasper will get a good look at where her Lobos are - and where they need to improve. The Lobos saw improvement from 2011 to 2112. They won 52 matches in 2011 and posted 90 singles wins in 2012. They almost doubled their doubles wins from 2011 to 2012. Jasper said she saw improvement throughout the 2012 fall season.

Bezdickova, from the Czech Republic, posted a solid 21-9 record in 2012 playing in the No. 1 singles spot. She will be UNM's on-court leader and carries an Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) ranking at No. 74 into the season. She will be a targeted Lobo.

"(Bezkickova) has taken her game to another level," said Jasper. "Laura Richardson is surprising people and Kristin (Eggleston) played her best tennis in November. These girls all like to be pushed. Our improvement has been tremendous."

There is a lot of haze over the 2013 Mountain West race, but the UNLV Rebels have an ITA ranking of 50 followed by Fresno State at 60 and Wyoming at 61. "I expect us to show up for every match with expectations to compete," said Jasper.

Said Eggleston: "We are working harder on and off the court. I think we are more solid as a team."

The New Mexico Lobos enter the 2013 season as underdogs, mostly unknowns, and probably not a team to be feared.

But there is a new-look to these Erica Perkins Jasper Lobos. Let's see if they have a new bite.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net.