By Craig Sanders
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Freshman Vicky Maes swiped at a loose tennis ball with her racket as she walked from the court. She mumbled to herself, toning down the harsh language she had used on the court moments before. It was the fifth match of the season against UC-Santa Barbara. She had hit the ball into the top of the net again on a hard return. She lost to an opponent she should have beaten. Arizona went on to a 6-3 win, but that wasn't good enough for Maes.
"I was just nervous out there," Maes said in a slight German accent as she walked off the court. "I'm not used to playing for a team, in front of all of these people. I can't play my game."
Maes sat on a bench and drank from her water bottle, letting her anger seethe until her doubles match. She teamed up with fellow newcomer Eva Maria Schurhoff and together, they were dominating. She was a freshman in her fifth match playing in the No. 1 position. She was a competitor who couldn't accept a loss.
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Eva Maria Schurhoff arrived in Arizona in early January, a late Christmas present for head coach Becky Bell. She was barely recruited, and practically fell into the Arizona program. It was hoped she could add depth to the team. Senior Allison Grace was still being sidelined by a nagging back injury, and even though freshman walk-on Erin Pavelko had arrived a month before, Bell was hoping to add depth with the 25-year-old freshman.
Schurhoff immediately showed that a backup role was not in her future. She got off to a 6-1 start at the No. 2 position and teamed up with Maes for the first time in January in the Pacific 10 Conference Indoor Championships. Amazingly, they took the flight No. 1 championship. Schurhoff reached the title match of the flight No. 2 singles bracket. Schurhoff and Maes would team up for the next couple of months to become the fifth-ranked doubles team in the nation.
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Freshman Betsy Miringoff played in the off court across the cement path from the rest of the team. Only assistant coach Stephanie London stood by watching her. She was invisible to the small crowd, and it was one of those team matches that had already been decided. Miringoff dropped a set and came back, dropped a set and came back. She was the No. 6 player on the roster, but losing wasn't in her vocabulary. She fought back to win the match.
"She is a scrapper and she fights. She knows how to win," Bell said.
Senior Angela Bernal, sophomores Stephanie Sammaritano and Melody Falco slipped down the depth chart to the middle of the lineup. There was no grumbling or complaining. In fact, there was hearty acceptance and a great deal of support for the new team leaders.
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Arizona was a preseason No. 17 Ä generous considering the team had lost its No. 1 and No. 2 players, Celine Verdier and Michelle Oldhalm, respectively, in 1994. The Wildcats had three incoming freshmen and were looking at the imminent loss of Grace for the season. The Wildcat squad had gone 12-13 the previous season and 2-8 in the Pac-10 South. The record was not bad for a tough Pac-10 conference, but with only one senior and the rest underclassmen, the future was very uncertain.
Yet this Arizona team showed a great camaraderie since the moment they stepped on the court together. The players insisted that there was a chemistry that would propel them through the season.
"The chemistry is amazing compared to last season," Sammaritano said, "We don't get down on each other. We take our wins and our losses the same way because we are all focused on the same goals."
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The Wildcats seemed to sneak up on people early. They jumped out to a quick start as they won their first seven matches. The true test came when they swept seventh-ranked UCLA and No. 13 Southern Cal on the weekend of Feb. 10-11. It was a feat that many of the Wildcats thought impossible and it was the first real sign of the team's abilities. There was a great deal of confidence when they left California.
"They were great wins, but when we won those matches the coaches didn't let us relax," Bernal said. "They let us know that our challenge isn't over."
The Wildcats were brought back to earth when they returned home and suffered their first loss of the season to then-third-ranked Stanford 7-2. The team bounced back the next day against then-fourth-ranked California 5-4. They seemed to pick up steam afterward with victories over No. 10 Kansas, No. 5 Florida and No. 8 Arizona State, all in the span of a month.
Arizona has risen to No. 5 in the nation and compiled a 15-3 overall record and is 5-2 in the Pac-10 South. In the last five matches, the Wildcats have won 29 of its last 30 singles matches and 37 of its last 39 matches overall. Arizona's overall dual-match record this season is 92-34.
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Arizona's Vicky Maes walked off the court of the Arizona State match March 28 smiling to a few of her fans. She had just defeated ASU's Kori Davidson, the No. 9 player in the nation. Maes drank from her water bottle, and relaxed as Bell gave her a pat on the shoulder and a word of encouragement. The rest of the team gathered around to watch Stephanie Sam- maritano finish off her opponent at the No. 3 position.
"Hard work, that's the key to this team's success," Bernal said. "That will be the key to achieving our goals."
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