|Women's tennis No. 3 seed|
The Idaho women's tennis team has spent a majority of the 2012 season exceeding expectations. The Vandals have tallied the program's second highest winning percentage since 1994-95 despite a thin, inexperienced roster and a challenging schedule.
For their efforts, the Vandals earned the No. 3 seed in this week's Western Athletic Conference tournament, which begins April 26 in Las Cruces, N.M. The Vandals will take on sixth-seeded Utah State in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 8 a.m., pacific.
Idaho finished the regular season with an 18-7 overall record and a 3-1 record in WAC play. That mark includes marquee wins over BYU, Kansas, Houston, New Mexico and Nevada, as Idaho's non-conference schedule was littered with teams from the Pac-12, Big-12, West Coast Conference, Mountain West and Conference USA.
"Not only have they come up with some huge wins and brought regional and national recognition to the program, but they have done it almost entirely on the road," Idaho coach Dan Pollock said. "All those trips away from home, playing in front of large hostile crowds and on unfamiliar courts can be nerve-wracking and exhausting. To compete with so much energy and desire week in week out - these girls are a credit to themselves, the athletic department, and the university."
After a 7-4 start, the Vandals rattled off four straight wins in late February and early March, and after a 4-3 loss in the WAC opener at New Mexico State, they won their next five to make it nine wins in 10 matches. Setbacks to Oregon and San Francisco preceded back-to-back WAC wins over San Jose State and Louisiana Tech to close out the regular season.
With two wins in the tournament, the Vandals can match their highest win total - 20 - in program history. With three, Idaho can break that mark and claim its first conference championship since the NCAA began sponsoring championships for women's sports in 1982.
"I think the girls thoroughly deserve the number 3 seed in the tournament, but now it is time for them to show that they deserve it," Pollock said. "We have to go down there and play with the same intensity and hunger that we have in big matches all year. If they do that they will do great."
The Vandal roster features only one player - senior Molly Knox - who entered the season with more than one year of collegiate experience. Two returning sophomores, two more first-year sophomores and a freshman rounded out Idaho's top six, but the Vandals didn't play like a team that lacked experience in 2012.
"It is amazing what this group of girls have achieved throughout the regular season," Pollock said. "With three girls in the top six that have no experience of college tennis, they have competed like a veteran team. The schedule they have played this year must be one of the strongest in the region, so to go 18-7 and 3-1 in a conference as strong as the WAC is an incredible achievement."
If the Vandals are able to get past Utah State on Thursday, they will take either second-seeded Hawai'i or seventh-seeded Nevada at 11 a.m. on Friday. The championship match is at 9 a.m. on Saturday.