Boilermaker Tennis: A Force To Be Reckoned With

The excitement is building around Purdue's women's tennis team.

April 11, 1998

By Kathleen Offer

The excitement is building around the Purdue women's tennis team. The 1998 Boilermakers have upset two top 30-ranked teams so far this season and have won four straight Big Ten matches. Owning a 9-7 overall record and a 4-1 conference mark, 49th-ranked Purdue is looking for its most prolific Big Ten season ever, better than its back-to-back 6-4 seasons in 1995 and 1996. The Boilermakers have a chance for their fifth consecutive conference win and 10th win in their last 14 matches when they host Penn State on April 12 at the Varsity Courts at 11 a.m. Penn State is 1-9 this spring, 0-4 in the Big Ten, making Purduethe obvious "Goliath" to the Nittany Lions' "David," a role the Boilermakers have thrived on this year.

"We've done a good job of keeping our focusthrough all our matches," says Purdue coach Mat Iandolo. "We don't take anyone for granted." The Boilermakers have won all the matches they have been favored to win, and then some, knocking off 22nd-ranked Northwestern 4-3 on March 1 for their first Big Ten win and No. 28 Michigan 6-1 on March 21 for their second. In addition, Purdue has hung tough with highly-ranked opponents like No. 12 Tennessee, No. 14 Pepperdine, No. 15 Notre Dame and No. 17 South Alabama to name a few. But hangingtough is not the goal of these Boilermakers. They want to win. And an Easter matchup with the Nittany Lions is no different.

"Penn State has some fairly good returning players with Big Ten experience," says Iandolo. "They're capable of pulling an upset if we're not 100 percent there mentally. Our goal is to come out strong both mentally and physically. It will take some solid play at every position to beat them."

Nowhere has Iandolo received more solid play than from freshmen Lisa Walgenbach and Erika Quebe. Walgenbach, a native of Carmel, Calif., is 5-0 in conference play at the No. 5 position. Quebe, who hails from Indianapolis and was the Indiana state high school champion in 1997, is 4-1 in the Big Ten at No. 3. Both Walgenbach and Quebe have posted 10-6 records to date this spring. Perhaps the strength of the youth can be attributed to quality leadership. The Boilermakers boast two seniors and two seasoned sophomores who have demonstrated what it takes to be successful. In particular, senior Mary Beth Maggart, who has received All-Big Ten, Academic All-Big Ten and Big Ten Sportswoman-of-the-Year honors for the past two years, heads the lineup at the No. 1 spot and sets the tone for the team.

Her example has rubbed off on sophomores Jennifer Embry and Shannon Taheny, who give the Boilermakers consistency at the No. 2 and No. 4 positions, respectively. Both are 9-7 this spring, and Taheny, a Barrington, Ill., native, was named Big Ten Athlete-of-the-Month for her outstanding performances throughout March. Senior Hally Cohen, a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree, has been pleasantly solid at the No. 6 spot, giving Purdue three Big Ten wins in that position while going 9-7 overall.

The Boilers have also received fine doubles play from Maggart and Embry, who make up the 23rd-ranked duo in the nation. Purdue is firing on all cylinders simultaneously, pointing to its members' cumulative experience, drive and motivation for success. "Everyone is more dedicated and really buys into the team," says Maggart. "We also have a lot of experience and we're all fighters. We go out and play as hard as we can and let things take care of themselves."

Purdue's team chemistry has carried them a long way, but there is still a ways to go. Following the contest with the Nittany Lions, the Boilermakers play at Indiana and Ohio State, then host Iowa and Minnesota before the annual Big Ten Tournament to be held April 30-May 3 in Madison, Wis. Purdue finished seventh last season after receiving the No. 8 seed. The Boilers' highest conference finish was fourth in 1995.

Right now, however, the Boilermakers have one thing on their minds: Penn State. "We're going into this match the same way we've gone into every other match," says Maggart. "We're not going to do anything differently because what we're doing has been right so far. We are going to play with a lot of confidence, get off to a good start and take it to them from the beginning."

Despite there being lots of tennis left to play in the regular season, the outcome of the match with the Nittany Lions is quite important for Purdue.

"If we can beat Penn State and be 5-1 heading into next weekend, we're going to be a very tough opponent for whomever we face," says Iandolo. "It's too early to talk about seeds, but our initial goal is to finish the regular season in the top five in order to receive a first-round bye in the tournament.

"There's not a match the rest of the year we can't win. It's not beyond the realm of possibility to go into the tournament with a 9-1 record. Being 7-3 or 6-4 is a possibility, too. It just depends on how we compete the rest of the year."