Doing more with less: Griz earn regional ranking
June 7, 2013
The June version of the biyearly ITA women's tennis regional rankings was announced Thursday. Ten teams from the Mountain Region made the list. Nine of those programs have one thing in common: The head coach was able to share a celebratory high five with his or her assistant coach.
One more trait: Eight of those 10 coaches were then able spread the good news to players who finished the season with an individual ranking.
The lone outlier in both circumstances? Montana coach Steve Ascher, who now has a top-10 program but who has neither an assistant coach nor a player who ranks among the top 20 in the region. The Griz women's tennis program: The Little Engine That Could.
In a season that featured runner-up finishes in the Big Sky Conference regular-season standings and postseason tournament and a 15-8 record with just four home matches, all while training at an indoor facility that can best be described as a less-than-ideal time-share arrangement, Montana cracked the top 10 in the region for the first time in Ascher's five years leading the Grizzlies.
"This is a culmination of the work everyone who has been a part of the program has put in," Ascher said. "It shows how the players we're recruiting are moving the team in the right direction. It's exciting to see us on the same list with the likes of those other teams."
UNLV topped the Mountain Region rankings. The Rebels were followed by Denver, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, BYU, Colorado, Boise State and Air Force. Montana came in at No. 10.
UNLV, Denver and Utah also finished the spring season with a national ranking.
The regional rankings are determined by a committee that looks at head-to-head matchups, strength of schedule, wins within the region and wins against nationally ranked opponents.
Montana made the top 10 despite playing 12 of its 23 spring matches against Big Sky Conference competition. In other words, 12 of 23 spring matches against teams that earned neither a Mountain nor a Northwest region ranking.
"It can be a little more challenging for us because we're in the Big Sky. If you're in the Pac-12 or Mountain West, you're getting the chance to play ranked teams every other match. We don't get those opportunities," Ascher said.
While Montana did not have any players land among the 20 ranked individuals, senior Heather Davidson and sophomore Laurence Pelchat tied for 10th in the 10-deep doubles rankings, the Grizzlies' first spring ranking since Rebecca Bran and Whitney Paluch came in at No. 9 in 2011.
In their first spring season together, in 2012, Davidson and Pelchat went 9-12 playing at No. 1 doubles. Playing a more difficult schedule in 2013, the duo went 14-9.
"Heather and Laurence had some really good results this year," Ascher said. "In tennis it can be hard to do, but I think they hit multiple rungs in terms of their improvement. They went from a losing record to a winning record in a spring when our schedule was much more difficult."
Davidson and Pelchat defeated the No. 1 doubles team for then No. 41 Minnesota and No. 35 Washington State and later added an 8-4 victory over Nevada's Michelle Okhremchuk and Emma Verberne and an 8-5 win over New Mexico's Michaela Bezdickova and Laura Richardson.
Nevada's top doubles pairing finished the season with a No. 4 Mountain Region ranking. New Mexico's tied for 10th with Davidson and Pelchat.
"The results they had against some of our nonconference opponents were incredible," Ascher said. "They put some nice pieces on their resume for sure. They were maybe one or two more results from making the committee at least have to consider them for a national ranking."
Davidson, three times a first-team All-Big Sky Conference selection, will be the lone personnel loss for Montana as the Grizzlies attempt to make more strides in 2013-14.
Precious Gbadamosi joined Davidson on the Big Sky's first team this spring, while Sasha Carter earned second-team honors. Pelchat and Haley Driver were both named honorable mention. All four returning honorees will be juniors next season.
2013 ITA Mountain Region rankings
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