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Women’s tennis program makes strides

BY JON FRANK | APRIL 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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Katie Dougherty may soon put the Iowa women’s tennis team on the Big Ten map.

Under the first-year head coach, the Hawkeyes have managed a 16-5 overall record, the best since 2006 and a drastic turnaround from the 7-14 campaign a year ago.

Northwestern, on the other hand, had finished first or tied for first in the conference for 11-consecutive years. That streak was broken this season by Michigan, which finished undefeated in Big Ten play and will be the No. 1 seed in this week’s conference tournament. Third-year coach Ronni Bernstein now boasts a 28-2 record in Big Ten meets.

So how can Iowa build upon its successful season to achieve similar results later?

“I think it’s a combination of recruiting the best athletes and training them properly,” Dougherty said. “I think a lot has to do with getting lucky, too, with injuries. In our sport, an injury up top can really hurt you.”

Junior Jessica Young said there is a distinct difference between competing against top-caliber schools, such as Northwestern and Michigan, as opposed to less distinguished programs.

“The top teams are going to make one more ball,” she said. “You have to expect to have longer points, to have to work harder. They don’t give up as easy.”

Recruits tend to go to schools with warm weather and good academics, Northwestern coach Claire Pollard said. Pollard also cited education and the university’s support for women’s tennis as the premier factors in her team’s repeated success.

The University of Iowa ranks 29th in the nation in overall academics among public schools, according to U.S. News & World Report. Michigan is ranked as the fourth-best public university academically. Northwestern, a private school, ranks 12th nationally in academics.

“[Michigan and Northwestern] are both really good academic schools and [have good] tennis players,” Young said. “There are a lot of really smart girls who play tennis, and I think that those schools, being really good academic schools, really helps [recruiting].”

In the spring of 2009, the Hawkeyes had four players — juniors Alexis Dorr and Lynn Poggensee-Wei and seniors Kelcie Klockenga and Merel Beelen — earn conference All-Academic honors, which requires student-athletes to carry a 3.0 GPA or higher.

Aside from academics attracting talented recruits, state-of-the-art-facilities can sometimes play an important factor in a player’s decision of where to attend, Young said.

Michigan’s Varsity Tennis Center serves as a significant recruiting tool.

Opened in 1997, it cost $6 million to build and was recently renovated to include indoor and outdoor electronic scoreboards, indoor video cameras for each court, and indoor and outdoor audio systems.

Iowa is on track as far as academics and facilities, though. The 4-year-old Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex has some of the same features that make Michigan’s facility appealing, such as indoor electronic scoreboards, and Dougherty said the team’s facilities should soon help in recruiting.

“Prospective student-athletes are going to see where they are going to be spending a lot of their time,” she said. “To have a brand-spanking-new place that’s clean and modern makes things a lot easier.”

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