(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
For BYU women's tennis, the 2003-2004 season will always be remembered as one laced with redemption and driven by teamwork. Playing as a team helped the Cougars come out on top in some of the toughest matches and they redeemed themselves in the final round of the Conference Championships, upsetting conference foe New Mexico, which had defeated BYU in the regular season.
The Cougars closed out the season ranked No. 21 nationally after falling to the Pepperdine Wave in the first round of the NCAA Championships in Los Angeles. BYU finished with a 22-6 overall season record, losing only once in conference play to New Mexico.
The 2003 season began with an impressive fall debut as the Cougars hosted the BYU Invitational in Provo where wins from four players highlighted the season's opening event. The Cougars gained an early sense of confidence, which carried them through the entire season.
Following the Invitational, the BYU women's tennis team competed in the Central Regional Championships in Salt Lake City. The Cougars had an impressive showing earning the right to host a playoff a week later with New Mexico, Oklahoma and Denver. BYU defeated Denver 6-1 in the morning and later blasted Oklahoma with three come-from-behind wins to clinch the top spot in the Central Region, earning its bid to the ITA National Indoor Team Championships.
As the BYU women made their appearance in the ITA National Indoor Team Championships for the seventh time in school history, they were ranked No. 45. The Cougars first fell to third ranked California 7-0, but bounced back to upset no. 5 USC and No. 14 College of William and Mary, jumping to an impressive No. 20 spot nationally.
BYU posted three straight wins to begin the regular season. The first came as the Cougars blanked Utah State 7-0 at home followed by a 6-1 win over Boise State. The match against Utah State was highlighted by the return of senior Lu Oswald. Oswald suffered a torn Rotator Cuff in her right shoulder and underwent surgery the previous season.
The winning ways continued for BYU with key wins over Kansas, Denver, Tulsa and Oklahoma State. In a disappointing loss against Oklahoma, the Cougars fell 4-2 as the Sooners took their revenge on their home court.
Fired up by the loss against Oklahoma, the Cougars pulled together as a team to trounce No. 13 Clemson in Provo where senior Barbora Zahnova rallied from behind to defeat sixth ranked Julie Coin of Clemson in a tight three-set match. Following the Clemson Victory, BYU claimed the No. 14 spot on the national scale.
In conference, BYU went 6-1 in the regular season and 9-1 overall, dropping only one match to New Mexico at home. BYU blanked Utah, Air Force and UNLV in the regular season followed by a clean sweep of Utah and UNLV again in the Conference Championships in San Diego.
Teamwork led the Cougars to the final round of the Mountain West Conference Championship against New Mexico. BYU lost the doubles point but with key wins from Olga Boulytcheva, Hadley MacFarlane and Lauren Jones, the Cougars went up 3-1 over the Lobos. Zahnova clinched the match for BYU as she pushed past New Mexico's Maja Kovacek in the third-set tiebreaker giving the Cougars their 19th conference win.
As the outright conference champions, the Cougars earned an automatic bid to compete in the NCAA Team Championships. BYU fell to Pepperdine in the first round in a 4-2 decision.
Barbora Zahnova finished her senior campaign ranked No. 35 nationally with a season record of 21-7, two Mountain West Conference Player of the Week bids and All-American status. Zahnova teamed with Hadley Macfarlane and Sofia Holden during the season to post a doubles record of 19-8. Zahnova's biggest win came as she upset No. 6 Julie Coin of Clemson.
The season for BYU's other senior, Lu Oswald, began well and ended well. Oswald returned from her shoulder surgery and got off to a great start posting two wins in her first two matches, but later suffered muscle strains in her lower back causing her to sit for half of the season. Oswald teamed with Rebecca Pike to finish the season with three straight doubles wins, finishing her senior campaign with a 9-6 doubles record and registering a 3-3 singles record. Oswald plans to help Coach Manning next season as a fifth year.
The Australian duo Rebecca Pike and Nicole Schneider were unstoppable in the early goings of the season. The two juniors went undefeated in their first five matches as BYU's No. 3 doubles team. Overall, Pike's experience was a strength for BYU as she posted a 17-6 singles record and an equally striking 19-4 doubles bid. Schneider went 2-1 in singles and 9-3 in doubles before ending her season for personal reasons.
Sophomores Hadley MacFarlane and Olga Boulytcheva posted some notable singles records to help the Cougars clinch the conference trophy. MacFarlane compiled an impressive 20-4 singles record at the Nos. 5 and 6 positions and a 15-13 doubles finish. Boulytcheva tallied a 16-5 season singles record, adding a 9-6 doubles record to her sophomore campaign.
BYU received a lot of added strength from its two freshmen, Sofia Holden and Lauren Jones. Jones posted the big win at the Central Regional playoff over Oklahoma's Jessica Braver to clinch BYU's bid to the ITA National Indoor Team Championships. Holden played at the No. 2 singles spot for the entire season posting a 14-12 record and adding a 20-5 doubles record to begin her BYU career. At the No. 3 position, Jones accumulated a 17-9 singles record closing out the season with 10 straight wins. In doubles, Jones tallied an 11-2 record.
The Cougars gained a lot of experience during the 2003-2004 season. With five experienced players returning to the lineup for the following season, the BYU women's tennis team looks to stay at the top of the Mountain West Conference and maintain its top-25 standing. Continued practice and work in the off-season is sure to add to BYU's success in the 2004-05 season.