February 13, 1997

Gone Are the Days of Last Place Finishes for Purdue Women's Tennis

By Kathleen Offer

For the first time in a number of years, the foundation for the Purdue women's tennis team is solid. Gone forever are the last-place finishes. Gone, too, are teams who could not compete within their own conference. Now, sixth-year head coach Mat Iandolo, after inheriting a program which was consistently in the conference cellar, has his team pointed in the right direction -- toward a Big Ten title. The quest for the championship starts this weekend, as Purdue travels to Minneapolis and Iowa City to take on Minnesota (Feb. 14) and Iowa (Feb. 16).

Purdue, currently 3-1 this spring, is looking to claim its first conference title in the 20-year history of the program. Once the perennial doormat of the Big Ten, Purdue is now a team to be feared and no longer overlooked.

Much of the reason for the turnaround is the caliber of players Iandolo has brought to West Lafayette. His most-prized pupil is Mary Beth Maggart, a native of Spring, Texas. Maggart, a junior, was ranked as the nation's 45th-best collegiate player in the most recent Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll. Despite starting the spring season 2-1, Maggart, who plays at No. 1 singles, has the talent and capability to defeat any player in the Big Ten. In 1996, Maggart was named the Big Ten's Co-Sportswoman-of-the-Year for her stellar performance on the court.

Another Texan who promises to be a Boilermaker standout is freshman Jennifer Embry. Though she is just a rookie, Embry has already been called upon to play at the No. 2 singles position for Purdue. So far this spring, the Houstonian has come through in spades, posting a perfect 4-0 record.

In addition to these two outstanding players, Iandolo has senior Rachel Fiset, juniors Hally Cohen and Amanda Scott and freshmen Johanna Hall and Shannon Taheny to provide depth and talent. Fiset, who has played both No. 5 and No. 6 singles this spring, is currently 3-1. Scott and Hall are both 2-1, while Cohen is 2-2 and Taheny is 1-2.

With these players, Iandolo has the tools that were once missing from the kit. Now, success is a matter of putting it all together.

``We need to have solid performances from our upperclasspeople,'' Iandolo says. ``The last two years, one of the major reasons for our success was due to the play of our No. 5 and No. 6 players in singles. So, in order to be successful again, we will need to continue to be strong in the lower part of our line-up.''

What makes this year's team more potent than last year's, however, is its strength at the top and center of the order.

``I think we're more solid through the middle of the lineup,'' Iandolo says. ``And we are much better at the No. 1 and No. 2 positions than we have been in the past.''

From a player's perspective, success depends on one thing: unity.

``I think in order for us to be successful, we have all got to come together, not let any match slide by and just play hard every match,'' Maggart says.

Embry agrees. ``What is really important is teamwork,'' she says. ``If we really support each other and help each other out throughout the season, that will ba a key to our success.''

Challenging Purdue for the title will be Michigan, Northwestern, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota. As one of the top teams in the conference, the Golden Gophers will be a tough conference-opening match for the Boilers.

``Minnesota is a huge match for us,'' Iandolo says. ``A win will establish us as one of the teams to beat for the Big Ten title.''

While the road to the title begins in Minnesota and Iowa, it ends in Indiana. Purdue is serving as the host of the 1997 Big Ten Championships on April 24-27, a fact that is pleasing to both Maggart and Iandolo. ``It will raise our level of desire to do really well,''

Maggart says. ``It will be exciting to have it here.''

``Being the host school, it should be a tremendous edge,'' Iandolo says. ``And any edge you get could be the edge that could put you over the hump.''

Just one more hurdle for the Boilermakers. This year, though, they truly can clear it.