LOBO CLASSICS: 2015 WOMEN’S TENNIS CAPTURES FIRST-EVER MW TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Former University of New Mexico women’s tennis coach Erica Perkins Jasper took over the reins of the program ahead of the 2013 season and was tasked with building the program into a championship contender. Initially that may have appeared to be a daunting task considering the three seasons prior to her arrival, however, the Lobo women’s tennis team had won just 17 matches overall and a mere two within the Mountain West.
Despite that, with Jasper at the helm, the turnaround did not take long. In just her second season, Jasper had led the Lobos to a 17-8 overall record and a 6-2 mark in the MW during the regular season. The 17 wins were the most for the program since 2004 when they won 20 matches. The breakthrough in the 2014 regular season translated over to the MW Tournament where the Lobos made it all the way to the championship match against Fresno State.
The Lobos would lose that championship match to the Bulldogs, 4-2, but it served as a launching point for the team heading into the 2015 season. A year that ultimately ended in the team making history and capturing their first-ever MW Tournament Championship.
Looking to build off the 2014 season, Jasper put together a stout schedule that would ensure that the Lobos would be battle-tested by the time the MW Tournament rolled around. With that in mind, the Lobos played nine teams during the 2015 regular season that were nationally-ranked including three teams that were ranked within the top-25.
Out of those nine matches, the Lobos went a respectable 4-5. Overall, the Lobos posted a 13-9 record in the regular season and went 4-2 in MW play. That mark in conference play combined with the overall strength of their schedule that saw the Lobos be ranked No. 61 in the ITA National Rankings, the Lobos earned the No. 2-seed in the 2015 MW Tournament.
In addition to being a high seed in the tournament and earning an opening round bye, the Lobos held the unique advantage of playing at their home facility. Newly constructed and later honored that year by the UTSA as one of its winners in their annual Facility Awards Program, the McKinnon Family Tennis Stadium* served as the host site of the MW Tournament and provided the Lobos a welcomed home court advantage.
(*NOTE – The Lobos played their quarterfinal and championship match indoors at the Linda Estes Tennis Complex due to poor outdoor weather conditions.)
After enjoying their opening round bye, the Lobos prepared for their quarterfinal match against No. 7-seed Nevada after the Wolf Pack had advanced in the tournament the day prior by knocking off No. 10-seed Boise State, 4-2.
In the match with the Wolf Pack, the Lobos found themselves down early after dropping the doubles point. In doubles play, the duo of Rachana Baht and Susan Baklini at No. 3 doubles were the only ones to win their match. Despite not claiming the doubles point, the Lobos were not in any kind of panic. In fact, they may have been completely comfortable about where they were at as that doubles loss was the eighth-straight match in which the Lobos had lost that point.
With doubles play now over, the Lobos turned their attention toward singles play where they would completely dominate the Wolf Pack.
The Lobos quickly picked up four-straight match wins in singles play to give them the overall team victory. Playing at No. 6 singles, Sharon Coone notched the first win for the Lobos as she won in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2. Top-flight competitor and All-MW singles honoree Emily Olivier was next to have her match reach conclusion as she won 6-4, 6-4. Dominique Dulski posted the same scores in her No. 4 singles match to give the Lobos a 3-1 lead over Nevada with three singles matches still in progress.
Playing at No. 5 singles, Bhat clinched the team match and secured the victory for the Lobos after she won in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4.
With that win, the Lobos advanced to the semifinals where they were set to take on No. 3-seed San José State, a team they had not played since 1998. Heading into the tournament, the Spartans were just behind the Lobos in the ITA ranking checking in at No. 62.
Just as their ITA National Rankings would suggest, the semifinal match between the Lobos and Spartans played out as close as it could go with the Lobos ultimately edging out SJSU, 4-3.
The match with the Spartans began in somewhat shocking fashion as the Lobos claimed the doubles point for the first time in their last nine matches. In securing the doubles point, the Lobos got victories from the No. 2 duo of Olivier and Coone and the No. 1 duo of Dulski and Natasha Smith.
In singles action, it was not long before the Spartans evened up the match as they picked up a win at No. 5 singles, 6-1, 6-1. The Spartans then took control of the match, 3-1 with wins at No. 1 singles (6-2, 6-3) and No. 3 singles (7-5, 6-0).
Facing defeat with one more loss in singles play, the Lobos started their comeback effort at No. 2 singles as Smith overcame a set one loss to win her match 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Following Smith’s win, the Lobos evened the match at 3-all thanks to a three-set win at No. 4 singles by Dulski (6-0, 3-6, 6-1).
With the team match knotted up at 3-all, all eyes turned to the battle at No. 6 singles. With the match hanging in the balance, Coone overcame a 3-6 loss in her first set and won each of the next two sets 6-1 en route to clinching the team victory and advancing the Lobos to their second-straight MW Tournament Championship appearance.
This time the Lobos would be taking on the No. 5-seed in the tournament, Wyoming, after the Cowgirls upset top-seeded Fresno State, 4-3, in the other semifinal. Despite playing a lower seed, the Lobos knew that they were going to be in for a competitive match. Earlier in the regular season, the Lobos had suffered a tough 4-3 loss on the road at Wyoming.
Regardless of the outcome forthcoming with Wyoming, one thing was guaranteed, one team was going to win their first-ever MW Tournament title as it was Wyoming’s first-ever appearance in a title game and the Lobos were still in search of that elusive victory after coming up short the year prior.
In that championship match, the Lobos once more jumped out to the early advantage by taking the doubles point. Once more the No. 1 duo of Smith and Dulski and the No. 2 duo of Coone and Olivier won their doubles matches to secure the point for the Lobos.
Unlike their previous match against San José State, the Lobos did not open singles play slowly as a 6-4, 6-3 win at No. 5 singles by Bhat gave the Lobos a 2-0 lead in the match. No. 3 singles was the next match to conclude and with it brought the Cowgirls their first point of the match.
At No. 1 singles, Olivier won in straight sets, but needed a second-set tiebreaker to claim the point.
Now leading 3-1, the Lobos were in position to close out the match with one more singles victory. Wyoming, however, staved off the potential defeat with a three-set win at No. 4 singles.
Still in good position, the Lobos put the finishing touches on the match at No. 2 singles. That match was an epic as Smith garnered a tiebreaking three-set victory. After winning the first set 7-5, Smith dropped the second set 4-6 to force the decisive third set. In that set, Smith and her opponent Nastya Tokareva played to a 6-6 stalemate and forced a tiebreaker.
Smith eventually outlasted Tokareva in the tiebreaker to clinch the individual match and secure the team match as well; giving the Lobos their first-ever MW Tournament Championship in thrilling fashion in front of their home fans.
That historic championship gave the Lobos an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament where they eventually drew No. 22-ranked LSU and ultimately lost to the Tigers in the opening round. It was the Lobos’ first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006.
Shortly after the conclusion of the 2015 season, Jasper resigned from her post as head coach to become the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). Associate head coach Kelcy McKenna was in turn tabbed as the head coach of the program, a post she held for one season before taking the head coaching position at Wisconsin.
About Lobo Classics
The goal of the “Lobo Classics” series is to highlight some of the greatest moments in the history of UNM Athletics. These types of moments can consist of specific games, individual performances, record-breaking achievements or even entire championship seasons. It is our intention that during this period of uncertainty, we can bring some joy and happiness to our unwaveringly loyal fans that make up Lobo Nation!
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