By Craig Sanders
Arizona Daily Wildcat
For the past decade, UA women's tennis coach Becky Bell has molded Arizona into one of the most promising programs in the nation.
Bell returns to a team she feels has the best chemistry of any Wildcat team in her 10 years at Arizona. Bell coached the Wildcats to seven consecutive NCAA appearances, including one in 1993 that saw Alix Creek and Michelle Oldham capture the first doubles championship in UA history. Arizona again reached the NCAAs last season and nearly eliminated eventual national champion Texas. This season, Bell hopes to return to the NCAAs yet again.
"I don't believe in putting expectations as far as rankings and victories are concerned," Bell said. "We have to stay healthy and play hard. The only expectations I have is that my players give it their best."
Sophomore Stephanie Sammaritano attributes Bell's success to her ability to relate to the players.
"She is always there for us," Sammaritano said. "When we have a problem on or off the court, she is there to listen and help. Coach Bell knows the game and knows how to teach that game to the players."
Before coming to the UA, Bell was both a player and an assistant at UCLA. She graduated in 1981 and earned a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology while becoming a four-year letter
winner in tennis. As an undergraduate, she was named an All-American in 1979 and was a team captain for three years. On UCLA's all-time single-season records list, Bell owns fourth, fifth and sixth place, with records of 25-7, 24-6 and 28-3. She also played a season of junior varsity basketball at UCLA.
"Coaching just seemed a natural course for me to take," Bell said. "I came to Arizona because I believed (the program) could grow and develop. The UCLA job opened up a couple of years after I came here, but Arizona is a place that I love to coach."
Bell relies on an aggressive style of play fundamentally based on pressing opponents. Players agree that this style has helped them become better players.
"I've mainly developed strategy and work ethic," senior Allison Grace said. "Playing this aggressive style keeps me focused throughout the match. I'm traditionally a baseline player, but I've worked on adding strength and power to my game."
Said Bell: "Each player has their individual strengths and weaknesses that need to be worked on. With the development of larger and more powerful rackets, the game has become faster and more aggressive. Women's tennis hasn't seen many great volleyers and that's what we're trying to work on."
Sammaritano, a native of Frontignan, France, said that Bell has taught her to be a more aggressive player than she was while in Europe.
"Back in Europe we waited for a player to tire or for a weak spot to appear," Sammaritano said. "I've learned to push my opponent from the beginning."
As a junior tennis player, Bell was selected to the 1979 USTA Junior Federation Cup Team and participated on the Penn, Nike, USTA and Virginia Slims circuits. She served as assistant director of the 1984 NCAA Championships and as coach and co-captain of the USTA Junior Federation Cup Teams in 1980-84.
"Tennis has been a big part of my life because it has provided me with so many opportunities to travel and to work with people," Bell said. "It's a game I love and a game I love to teach. I don't know if I'll stay in coaching forever, but I have no plans to leave."
Bell has also coached the USA team in the Battle of the Americas in 1981, and has been tour director of the USTA satellite circuit since 1985. She has also been the tour director for the U.S. Open qualifying rounds and master instructor of the USTA Junior Excellence Camp.
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Arizona's freshmen continued to impress last weekend at the ITA Rolex Regionals in Irvine, Calif. The ITAs represented the Wildcats' last invitational before season play begins in January.
Powerhouse UCLA came away with victories in both singles and doubles play, but the tournament focused more on individual accomplishments than team scoring.
Freshman Betsy Miringoff advanced to the semifinals of the regionals with a 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 victory over Pam Trump of Southern Cal. To get there, Miringoff defeated Nina Basica 6-4, 6-2 in the first round and Paige Yaroshuk of UCLA 6-1, 6-3 in the second. She was finally eliminated 6-3, 6-3 by Reka Cseresnyes of Arizona State.
Fellow freshman Vicki Maes, who advanced to the semifinals of the ASU Invitational in her first tournament, reached the third round before losing to second-seeded Jane Chi of UCLA. Cseresnyes, who defeated Miringoff, also eliminated Melody Falco of Arizona 7-5, 6-4 in the second round. Angela Bernal and Sammaritano were dismissed in the second round by Lynn Coakley of UC-Santa Barbara 6-1, 6-4 and the University of San Diego's Dina Birch 6-3, 4-6, 6-1. The finals featured two UCLA players. Keri Phabus ran past Stephanie Chi 6-3, 6-1 to win the singles.
Sammaritano and Falco advanced to the semis with a third-round victory over Hesse and Blackensee of USD 6-1, 6-1. They worked well together in their first tournament before being ousted in a hard-fought set with Phabus and Starrett of UCLA 6-4, 7-5. Miringoff and walk-on Erin Pavelko advanced to the second round before losing to Hesse and Blackensee 6-1, 6-1. Maes and Bernal ran into eventual champion Chi and Chi of UCLA in the first round and were tossed out 6-2, 6-4. The finals in doubles was a rematch of singles champion Phabus and Stephanie Chi. Phabus and Starrett lost to Chi and Chi, 6-2, 6-4.
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