by Keith Peters
The faces still may be the same, but there's a different look for the Stanford men's and women's tennis teams this year. In addition to the new shirts on the bodies of eight returning players on the men's team, Stanford coach Dick Gould sees dramatic improvement in each player who contributed to last season's 20-5 record.
And while Frank Brennan has seven of his top eight players back from the 26-3 team that finished second to Texas in the NCAA team tournament, there is a renewed hunger by the Cardinal women's squad to win another national title after failing to do so the past two seasons.
All in all, both teams have the talent, depth and experience to once again battle for national honors this season.
"Every player on the team is improved," said Gould, whose team took a 4-0 dual-match record into today's nonconference match against Nevada-Las Vegas at the Stanford Tennis Stadium. Stanford also will play host to Pepperdine on Saturday at noon.
"They're continuing to learn and continuing to get better," Gould added. "There's no leveling off, despite it being a senior team. We are flat-out a better team than last year."
San Jose State won't argue with that. The Spartans were thumped mightily by the No. 2-ranked Cardinal on Tuesday, 7-0. Included in that victory was a 6-4, 6-0 win by Stanford senior Michael Flanagan at No. 1 singles over SJS standout Brandon Coupe.
It was Coupe's first-ever loss to a Stanford player.
Stanford's other returning senior starters also had solid performances. Robert Devens won at No. 2, Chris Cocotos at No. 4 and Vimal Patel at No. 5. Rounding out the singles sweep were victories by sophomores Jeff Salzenstein at No. 3 and Jim Thomas at No. 6.
The Cardinal also produced a point in doubles, utilizing the new scoring system where the team that wins two of the three doubles (played in pro sets) earns one point.
That new system, in addition to the parity in college men's tennis this season, gives Gould good reason to be optimistic about his team's chances at the NCAA Indoors (Feb. 24-27) and the outdoor team championships in May.
"(Defending champ) USC had three superb doubles teams last year," Gould said. "Now (the most) they can get only one point."
While doubles play still is important--all three matches are played before the singles--a premium now is placed on the individual matchups. With his four seniors in the lineup, the same number he had in 1992 when Alex O'Brien led the Cardinal to the NCAA title, Gould has a team that could go far.
Battling the current top six will be sophomore Jim Thomas, senior Billy Wright and the team's only freshman, Grant Elliott from Palo Alto High. Elliott missed most of the fall season with walking pneumonia, and right now is teaming with Becker at No. 3 doubles.
While Brennan is looking forward to being inducted into the NorCal Tennis Hall of Fame on Feb. 19, he hopes the real highlight of his season is seeing his team win the NCAA crown for the seventh time in nine years.
"Lucky for us, we have the most depth I've ever had here," said Brennan, whose No. 2-ranked squad (4-0) faced San Diego today and plays host to San Diego State on Saturday at noon.
Brennan started out with a lineup that stretched 10-deep. Since then, junior Amy Chiminello (45-4 last season) has been sidelined for the year following surgery needed to correct foot surgery that she underwent in August. And sophomore redshirt Kim Shasby has a foot problem that has sidelined her for the time being.
"Nothing is scarier than running out of quality players," said Brennan, "but that's not the problem this year."
Brennan still has senior Laxmi Poruri, the nation's No. 2 singles player who should regain the No. 1 spot soon, plus returning All-American Kristine Kurth at No. 2. Also on hand is senior Emma Woodhouse, sophomores Beth Berris and Wendy Sacks, plus freshmen Katie Schlukebir, Sandra De Silva and Menlo-Atherton High graduate Emily Burt, who'll see plenty of action in doubles this season.
Florida, the 1992 champ, and Texas, the '93 team champion, both have lost their top two players. Cal, meanwhile, has improved greatly as evidenced by its No. 3 nationally ranking.
Those three teams and Stanford should battle for national honors this season. Brennan, for one, knows his team--barring further health problems--will be up for the challenge.
"I'm seeing a renewed hunger on this team," he said. "It's a hard-working team. Losing the finals (last year) may have whetted their appetite. They know how close they came to winning it all."
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