New Mexico Lobos Women’s Tennis – 2013-14 Season Review
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Maybe what most impresses you about the 2013-2014 season that Coach Erica Perkins Jasper’s Lobos threw out in her second year at the helm was that these Lobos ended the season angry – not satisfied, hungry.
Oh, it was a spectacular season and probably somewhat of a shocker for those who observed this program from a distance and who weren’t aware of all the young talent that Jasper had assembled to assault the nets of the Mountain West.
And it was a season of great turnaround and great success. The 17 wins are the most for this Lobo program in ten years and Jasper inherited a program stumbling through hard times. She took over a program that had gone 17-49 under the previous coach and was coming off a 1-6 MW season that saw the Lobos bow out in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament.
And two years later – in May of 2014 – Jasper’s Lobos were playing in the Mountain West championship match.
“This isn’t a group that is satisfied with finishing second in the conference,” said Jasper. “They want to come back and win the whole thing.”
It could happen. The Lobos lose an outstanding senior in Michaela Bezdickova, who was All-Mountain West in both singles and doubles. But Jasper returns everyone else.
“We had seven first-year scholarship players and six freshmen and I am so proud of what they did and how they finished,” said Jasper. “We knew that we were going to be a lot stronger and more talented, but you can’t always predict how a team will grow and come together.
“We tried to keep quiet about it, but we knew we had the players to take a shot at winning the conference. But they were young and they had to go out on the court and prove a few things, put in the work and grow as a team.”
The growth was impressive. Jasper’s Lobos finished with a 17-8 record and their 6-2 mark in Mountain West play handed them the No. 2 seed going into the tourney. This was quite a jump in respect and accomplishments considering the Lobos also had lost in the tourney’s first round in 2013.
The Lobos beat Nevada 4-2, San Diego State 4-2 and fell to Fresno State 4-2 in the championship match.
“We were disappointed to get that close and fall short,” said Jasper. “Anytime you can get that close, you can’t wait to take another shot at it.”
There is a good chance Jasper’s Lobos will get that shot in 2015. They return the core of a young team that picked up a ton of experience in 2013-14. They return an All-Mountain West player in Lizette Blankers, who picked up the honor in singles and doubles. Blankers also was the Mountain West’s Co-Freshman of the Year.
“We knew Lizette had talent, but she really shined,” said Jasper. “She played No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles and exceeded our expectations.”
You might say freshman Rachana Bhat exceeded expectations, too. Usually you can say a Lobo rookie had to suffer a few bumps in the road, but Bhat went 16-0 during the regular season in dual matches. She was 8-0 in MW battles.
“I’ve never had a player go undefeated in the spring in dual matches,” said Jasper. “That was a remarkable feat. Going into matches, she was almost like an automatic point.”
Coming out of matches, Bhat was an automatic point. It was the balance of Jasper’s roster from top to bottom that made the Lobos such a tough opponent in 2014.
Another key for Jasper was to find a couple of doubles teams that could help New Mexico earn that valuable point. It wasn’t easy since the teams coming together had never before played together. The Lobo won 62 percent of their singles matches and 66 percent of their doubles. Bezdickova and Blankers went 21-11 overall and 5-2 in MW games to seal their All-MW selection.
“The teams were all brand new, but I always have high expectations for doubles,” said Jasper. “This year was a positive step in the right direction in so many areas. I expect to take another step up next year with the teams having experience together.”
The step up in 2014 was a big one based on where this program had to come from and also based on its youth. New Mexico went 33-13 in Mountain West singles matches for a 72 percent win rate. The Lobos were 12-7 in MW doubles.
The stats pushed out by a few of the Jasper freshmen were impressive. Susan Baklini went 14-7 overall. Bhat went undefeated in duals, but also was 26-4 overall. Blankers was 24-16 overall and 5-3 in MW matches. Dominique Dulski was 23-5 overall and 7-1 in league battles. Meredith Hopson was 21-12 overall and 15-9 in dual. Emily Olivier was 16-13 overall.
These were all freshmen a season removed from high school nets.
Bhat and Porter, another freshman, went 5-1 overall in doubles. Baklini and Bhat went 3-1 in MW doubles and Dulski and Natasha Smith, a junior, went 4-1 in MW doubles. Hopson and Smith went 10-3 overall in doubles. Smith went 16-11 overall in singles and 5-1 in MW singles.
“We had one of the better seasons in quite a few years and that was exciting,” said Jasper.
The Lobos of 2014 also had to experience another strange twist at the end of the season. Jasper went into labor and had to go on maternity leave. She was out of action for four of the final five games of the regular season and also for the Mountain West Tournament.
She had to turn the team over to her assistant, Kelcy McKenna, and McKenna’s assistant came out of the Lobo administration office – Tim Cass, UNM’s Deputy Athletics Director, who was a former Lobo player and Lobo coach. Cass once led the UNM men’s team to five consecutive conference titles and five straight NCAA tournaments.
Jasper left her Lobos in good hands.
“I think that change just showed the resolve of this team,” said Jasper. “Kelcy and Tim did a great job and our captains stepped up and did a phenomenal job as leaders. It was difficult as a coach to be sitting on the sidelines, but it was so rewarding to see the evolution of the team as they didn’t let any of the change bother them.
“Kelcy did an unbelievable job. There are a lot of things that happen at the end of the season and she had to do her job plus part of my job. There were a lot of teams that might have been affected by the change, but the girls just stuck with the system and got the job done."