(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
The 2005-06 BYU women's tennis season was defined with chemistry and unity. With such the Cougars compiled a 20-8 record, including eight wins over ranked opponents. The team also finished second in the Mountain West Conference after advancing to the conference championship for the fourth straight year and for the third year in a row was selected to compete in the NCAA Tennis Championships. The Cougars finished the season with a No. 30 national ranking and a No. 1 ranking in the Central region, having been ranked as high as No. 19 nationally during the season.
Going into the 2005-06 campaign, coach Craig Manning knew his team had a very special bond, constantly commenting that his young team was united and didn't face many of the small problems other teams often do.
"Each of the girls gets along very well with each of her teammates," Manning said. "They are sincerely supportive of each other whether they are winning or losing."
Manning had a chance to see the positive effects of his team's unity early in the season. In their fourth match, playing against No. 55 Colorado, the Cougars found themselves protecting a 3-2 lead with Dolly Chang in a tough third set with Martina Sedivec. Playing in the Harvest House in Boulder, Colo., the team almost seemed to be playing a woman down because the entire Colorado men's tennis team had come out to cheer on the Buffaloes. Even with the noise, the Cougars refused to relent. Manning said the Cougars gathered together to cheer on their teammate and out-cheered everyone in the building. The togetherness paid off as Chang pulled out a 6-3 victory in the third to give BYU the victory.
Not only did team chemistry lead to Cougar wins during the regular season, but afforded them the opportunity to play in the USA-ITA National Team Indoor Championships. The No. 22 Cougars were one of 16 teams selected to compete in a field consisting of 15 of the top 22 ranked teams in the nation. Although BYU left the three-day tournament without a win, losing to No. 10 North Carolina, No. 7 Vanderbilt and No. 8 Baylor, the tournament proved to be yet another chance for the Cougars to improve their cohesiveness. As a team, they identified the little things they needed to improve on to be ready for conference play.
As much as the team stressed unity, great individual performances helped lift the Cougs throughout the year. Leading the way for BYU was lone senior Olga Boulytcheva, who finished her career at BYU by playing the best tennis of her four-year stint. Boulytcheva's record year got off to a great start during the fall season where she advanced far into numerous tournaments. She advanced to the finals of the Women's Central Region Championships and was the main draw of the ITA All-American Championships. Most notably, Boulytcheva was selected to compete in the ITA National Indoor Championships where she was a quarterfinalist. With her appearance, Boulytcheva became the first Cougar to be selected for National Indoors since BYU assistant coach Holly Parkinson was selected in 1997.
The momentum from preseason tournaments catapulted Boulytcheva to a 5-0 start to the regular season, a 15-8 singles record, and a final No. 25 national ranking with her highest national ranking at No. 19 earlier in the season. She was also named MWC Player of the Week three times and All-MWC in singles. Her phenomenal play throughout the season earned her a berth in the NCAA Singles Championships, but she did not compete due to injury. She was also named the Central Region ITA Senior Player of the Year.
Following the lone senior's lead, juniors Lauren Jones and Sofia Holden came through with wonderful performances throughout the year to help lead the Cougars into the NCAA Tournament. Jones, who did most of her damage in the No. 2 spot, compiled a 14-9 singles record, was named conference player of the week once and also All-MWC in singles. Most important for the Cougars, Jones went on a hot streak in the last month of the season, winning nine of her last 11 matches to help lift the Cougars to the No. 2 seed in the MWC Tournament. Jones also teamed with Boulytcheva in the second half of the season to earn an amazing 14-0 record on the doubles court.
Holden steadied the Cougars through conference competition with her singles and doubles play as well. In a match against No. 40 New Mexico that solidified BYU's No. 2 conference seed, Holden fought her way back from a 3-1 deficit in the third set to beat Lucy Scott and cement a 4-3. Leading the Cougars throughout the season in doubles at the No. 1 spot, Holden continued BYU's reputation of strong doubles play. She paired with sophomore Dolly Chang to go 6-3 on court No. 1 and an overall 9-6 doubles record. The two finished the season ranked No. 57 nationally in doubles and No. 3 in the Central Region. The duo was also named All-MWC in doubles.
Chang wasn't the only sophomore making contributions to the team as both Anastasia Sourkova and Jennifer Miccoli made their presence felt. The two teamed up in doubles to post an astounding 18-7 record, playing most of their matches on court No. 2, and were named All-MWC in doubles. Individually, the two helped carry their load of the responsibility on the team as well. Sourkova led the Cougars in singles victories with 21, including a 10-match win streak mid-way through the season. Miccoli made her singles debut against Kansas State after sitting out the first half of the season with an injury, but had enough time to rack up 11 singles victories for BYU.
The Cougars had to fight to continue their consistency throughout the year as injuries forced many of the athletes to fill varying roles throughout the course of the season. As would be expected with this close-knit group, the chemistry between all members of the team allowed Manning to make those necessary changes without losing any continuity on the court. Freshman Rana El Derwy and sophomore Brianna Williamson stepped in for their teammates in singles, while junior Hanni Deters went a perfect 3-0 while taking over doubles duty with Lauren Jones during conference play.
As the No. 2 seed in the MWC Tournament BYU faced Colorado State and UNLV on its way to the conference final. The Cougars had already beaten both squads during the regular season and that experience aided them in the tournament as they beat Colorado State 4-0 in the quarterfinal and UNLV 4-2 in the semifinal. The two victories set up a championship match with No. 1 seed and conference favorite TCU. The Cougars came into the championship match for the fourth time in a row and as two-time defending MWC champions. However TCU wasn't intimidated the Cougars were not able to hold on against the powerful Horned Frogs. Although the matches remained close, the Cougars didn't win a match, losing 4-0.
Remaining united in defeat as they had in victory, the Cougars were rewarded for their 20-8 season with their third-straight berth in the NCAA Tennis Championships. Although the Cougars would eventually lose to Arizona in the first round, BYU had plenty to be proud of. With only one senior on the roster and injuries to key players during the season, the Cougars continued the bond they forged in the preseason to help push them to another winning season of BYU tennis. With 2005-06 in the books, BYU now sets its sights on 2006-07 when they look win its 21st conference championship and fourth-straight berth in the NCAA Tournament.