Jan. 19, 2010
BY RICHARD STEVENS - SENIOR WRITER/GOLOBOS.COM
To say there is a new face to University of New Mexico women's tennis, isn't simply to isolate on the new look at the top of the program - first-year head coach Roy Cañada.
There is no question that position change jumps out at you because Cañada takes over for Kathy Kolankiewicz, who led the women's program for 24 years. But Cañada was a Lobo assistant for 13 years and he knows his way around the Lobo Tennis Club and around the Mountain West Conference.
This new look goes much deeper and directly into the Lobos' 2010 roster. UNM had 11 Lobos running around the courts last season and seven of those are gone, including standouts Ola Abou-Zekry, Mackenzie White and Maria Sotirchos.
What Cañada has on his roster is similar to what Lobo men's basketball coach Steve Alford has running around over at The Pit - a bunch of Lobo pups. Cañada has no seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and four true freshmen.
The question mark here is how all this youth will respond to the demands of Division I tennis. Even the older Lobos did not see much court time in the 2009 MWC campaign. Cañada is honest in evaluating what he expects from this group in the 2010 MWC net wars: He's not sure.
"This is a big transition year," he said. "We have changed the way we are recruiting. We have changed some philosophy in practices and just how we run things. We have only four players back from last year, so it's a year of uncertainty.
"I used to be able to look ahead and know which teams we would beat and which teams would beat us. It would stay pretty close to what we thought. This year we can't do that.
"But this is a dangerous team. We can beat good teams and we can lose to anyone. It's a very up-in-the-air season."
An obvious key for Cañada and his young Lobos is to improve, improve, improve. They did that in the short fall season. Cañada said his Lobos won a single match in their first tournament, won five matches in the next tournament, and then combined to win 17 matches.
Cañada likes the talent mixed in with his eight scholarship Lobos: juniors Ashley Bonner and Anya Villanueva, sophomores Eliane Bourdages and Manumea Durie, and freshmen Kristin Eggleston, Michaela Oldani, Laura Richardson and Amy Shipperd. Bonner and Villanueva are former walk-ons, who earned full scholarships.
The improvement in this group was seen in UNM's final fall tournament, the Southwest Collegiate Invitational, when Oldani, Durie and Eggleston all posted 3-1 marks.
Cañada also likes the versatility found within his roster.
"Like clay, we can do a lot with this group," he said. "This team is very multiple. We don't have any superstars, who are already made players.
"We can change the way they play the game and these players are not one-dimensional. These girls have the ability to charge the net, to learn different things, and they are receptive to learning."
Cañada like another quality to be found in his Lobos: hunger.
"These players are all hungry," he said. "Some players come to college burned out because they have done so much or played so much at the junior level. These girls have something to prove at this level."
Cañada says his rotation is about as uncertain as his outlook on this season. That's because he expects players to improve at different rates and he isn't discounting the probability that his young Lobos will have ups and downs during the season.
"I can't say we have anyone who has proven themselves yet," he said. "This top eight is balanced and very competitive with each other and that's from top to bottom. I've never had a team this close in talent.
"The plan is for this team to be pretty good down the road. What we want this season is to see steady progress. These girls have a lot to learn, but they are going to get a lot of court time this season, so we expect to see progress."