Jan. 24, 2005
A new day is dawning on the Purdue women's tennis team. The Boilermakers are ready to rebound from 2004, and are poised to usher in a bright, new, promising 2005 season.
Head coach Mat Iandolo, now in his 14th year in West Lafayette, is anxious for the campaign to get under way.
"We are looking forward to this year for a number of reasons," Iandolo says. "We feel like we have a lot of firepower back, and we also feel that our chemistry is the best it's ever been. We have very good depth and a lot of talent, as well."
On paper, Purdue appears as though it will stack up quite nicely against its foes in the ultra-competitive Big Ten Conference. The Boilermakers have eight letterwinners returning, including four who were in the regular singles rotation at the end of last year. Four seniors are on the 10-player roster; six of the 10 players are upperclassmen.
Iandolo hopes the veterans can provide the kind of leadership necessary to propel Purdue back into the NCAA Championships after a year hiatus.
"Our seniors have been major contributors to the success of our program since the day they set foot on campus; when they talk, they do so with a wealth of experience and knowledge about how to do things the right way and how to get results," Iandolo says. "I have no doubt that the younger players will follow their lead."
Making up the Class of 2005 are Lara Burgarello, Catie McLevish, Amy Walgenbach and Shawna Zuccarini. Burgarello, Walgenbach and Zuccarini have made a mark on the Purdue program both individually and collectively, and figure to make their impression even more lasting once the sun sets on the Boilermaker careers.
"I can't say enough about Lara, Amy and Shawna and what they've meant to Purdue tennis," Iandolo says. "They have worked extremely hard over the last three years, and we will do everything we can to make sure they leave here on a high note."
Burgarello has proven herself as one of the best doubles players in Purdue history, as she has amassed more than 60 career wins. She won 21 pairs matches in 2004 alone, and won 11 of her last 13 dual-match contests.
"Lara's all-around game is incredible, and that's what makes her such a dangerous doubles player," Iandolo says. "She's quick, fast and highly skilled. Those three things, along with her ball-striking ability, will keep her in every match she plays."
Walgenbach has played everywhere from No. 1 to No. 6 singles over her first three years in West Lafayette. She has won more than 50 matches, including 16 in Big Ten action. Walgenbach reached No. 112 in the I.T.A. national rankings in 2003, and looks to make another appearance in the poll this spring.
"Amy has improved tremendously during her time at Purdue," Iandolo says. "She had a great freshman and sophomore year, and she was solid as a junior. She's committed now to making her senior year the best one yet."
The same can be said of Zuccarini, who, like Walgenbach, has collected more than 50 singles wins since the fall of 2001. Zuccarini is the winningest senior, as she has totaled the most singles and doubles victories in her class, with 91.
Zuccarini played primarily at No. 5 singles and No. 3 doubles last year. She posted a 16-13 singles and a 17-12 doubles record, going 7-3 in the Big Ten in both disciplines.
"Shawna has a mean serve that is very hard to return, especially on fast courts," Iandolo says. "She is one of the strongest players we've had in our program, and that is evident when you watch her strike the ball."
While the Class of 2005 has designs on finishing strong, the Class of 2007 looks to fashion an impressive sophomore season. Hala Sufi and Alyssa Rodriguez proved last year that youth can be served, as they closed out the campaign at the No. 1 and No. 2 singles positions.
Sufi, a four-time Arizona state high school champion, won 40 matches as a rookie, and ranked 18th in the final I.T.A. Midwest regional poll. The two-time Big Ten Player of the Week competed against top 100-ranked players 12 times, winning three matches. Her biggest win came on April 21, when she upset No. 19 Alicia Salas of Notre Dame and helped Purdue to a 4-3 upset of the 27th-ranked Fighting Irish.
Sufi started the dual-match season at No. 3, but moved to No. 1 for the final 10 matches.
"We knew Hala would help us immediately, but we didn't expect she'd be doing it at the top of the lineup so soon," Iandolo says. "She's a natural. She doesn't get too caught up in any hype; she just goes out and plays the game."
Rodriguez, who also came to Purdue with an impressive background, lived up to high expectations as a freshman, as well. The former Texas 5A singles champion won a total of 42 matches last season - 21 in singles and 21 in doubles. She played mostly at No. 4 singles, but slid into the No. 2 spot for the Big Ten Championships.
"Alyssa had a very impressive, very steady freshman year," Iandolo says. "Her sophomore year should be even better. She has all the tools necessary to be one of the best to ever wear the Purdue uniform."
The five aforementioned players are all but locks to see time in the regular rotation. Vying to break into the lineup will be walkons Catie McLevish, a senior, and junior Paula Schmidt. Junior transfer Brittany Minna, who played just one doubles match last season, also figures to make a move.
Two newcomers also will have a chance to contribute. Stephanie Wooten comes to Purdue from Combine, Texas, where she was a three-time Class 3A state champion for Crandall High School. Brooke Beier, who hails from East China, Mich., won state championships at St. Clair High School as a junior and senior, and reached as high as 81st in the national 18-and-under rankings.
Iandolo, who has signed his share of talented players during his tenure at Purdue, believes Wooten and Beier will be strong additions to the Boilermaker program.
"We have a long tradition of signing quality players who are also quality people. Stephanie and Brooke continue that tradition," Iandolo says. "They both are all-around outstanding individuals, and we are excited about their futures at Purdue."
The future appears to be bright for Purdue, which has the leadership, the experience and the talent it needs to succeed. After narrowly missing an NCAA berth in 2003, the Boilermakers will not welcome the sun setting on 2005 without getting another invitation to the Big Dance.