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Saint Mary'es College Athletics

Women's Tennis

The SMC women's tennis team will try to finish its season strong over the next few weeks.
The SMC women's tennis team will try to finish its season strong over the next few weeks.
WTEN | Success Serves As Prelude For Stretch Run
Release: Monday 04/05/2013 
by SMC Athletics

MORAGA, Calif. -- A few minutes before 2 on a Tuesday afternoon, Korth Tennis Complex is relatively quiet.

By the top of the hour, individual workouts have begun. On one particular court, Jenny Jullien is focused on various parts of her game. She warms up accordingly, then continues the work that has seen her climb to No. 17 in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association national rankings.

The workout is individual only in the sense that Jullien is the one holding the racquet. Taken in a larger context, it's just another piece to the puzzle of success that the Saint Mary's women's tennis team seems to be solving this season.

The Gaels enter Sunday's match at Santa Clara with a 5-0 record in West Coast Conference play. They are 10-7 overall, ranked No. 40 in the country, and have beaten four ranked teams along the way.

In a sport most consider individual, Saint Mary's has enjoyed a season filled with team success.

"I think we all get along really well. That makes the team so much better," Jullien said. "Not like we had any trouble or team struggle before, but this year we're all together and we complete each other. I feel like the lineup is very deep. We have strong players on each court and that makes it so much fun."

Part of that is talent, and Jullien serves as a prime example.

The junior from Perpignan, France has garnered plenty of accolades throughout her career in Moraga. She's taken it to a whole different level this year, going 14-4 so far to become the highest-ranked player the Gaels have ever had. A two-time WCC Player of the Month already, Jullien owns eight wins over ranked opponents.

"She's just a fighter," said senior team captain Catherine Isip. "She'll find a way to dig it out and turn a match around no matter how far down she is. That's a good quality to have."

"What's different is just confidence," Jullien adds. "You start the season playing all those good players where you have nothing to lose and you just play better. You see your ranking go up like that and it makes you play better."

Jullien's success has given Saint Mary's a stable presence at the top of the lineup. But that's only one point of the four needed to win a match.

So, the rest of the lineup has also performed when called on. Isip, Danielle Flores, Jade Frampton, Catherine Leduc, Audrey Leitz, Elizabeth Searl and Hannah Liljekvist have all contributed at various spots in the lineup. Flores has been nationally ranked for parts of the season, as has the doubles team of Isip and Searl.

Those winning ways didn't just happen overnight.

"We took two tough losses to San Diego State and Washington early in the season and we didn't know what to do," Isip said. "After that, we took a couple more road trips and we got it together. Everything started clicking. The more wins you get, the more confidence builds up."

If pressed, it's likely that the majority of the team would point to one pivotal moment early in the season as one they'll remember long after this year's action has wrapped up.

It came in mid-February during a non-conference trip to Stanford. Ranked No. 7 at the time, the Cardinal entered the match as favorites against the No. 47 Gaels.

Wins at No. 1 and 2 doubles gave Saint Mary's the first point of the day, but Stanford countered with wins at No. 4 and 2 singles to go up 2-1.

It didn't take long for Jullien to even the score. A straight-sets win over No. 10 Krista Hardebeck made it 2-2 with three matches left on court.

Stanford re-claimed the lead briefly, but Flores pulled out a three-set win at No. 3 over No. 33 Ellen Tsay to make it 3-3 and shift all focus to court five.

That's where Leduc made her mark on the day. Her battle against Natalie Dillon looked like a sure Stanford win, with Dillon up a set and 4-1 in the second. Leduc turned the tide, pulling out the second set in a tiebreaker and then winning the third set 6-3 to give Saint Mary's the program's biggest win ever.

"We couldn't believe it at first. Everyone started crying. We said 'wow, we just beat Stanford,'" Jullien said. "I remember Danielle calling her mom and shouting on the phone 'we beat Stanford' in front of the Stanford girls. It's something you can't hold back because you're so happy."

Successes like that haven't come just because the team likes each other. There's been plenty of leadership to go around, whether that's come from the team's lone senior, Isip, or a three-year veteran like Jullien.

"I know that the older you get, the more of a model you are," Jullien said. "I knew people were going to come up to me and ask stuff, but I didn't know I'd have such an impact. Not that I have a big one, but I'm sure I help them and people before have helped me."

Having been a part of the last four seasons, Isip has seen the progression. The senior from Anaheim, Calif. credits the team makeup, but she also gives due credit to head coach Lisa Alipaz and associate head coach Katharina Winterhalter.

"She really likes to keep things personal. She really cares about each individual," Isip said of Alipaz. "She'll take you aside and ask you what you need. If she can't do it, Kat will do it depending what fits for us and our schedule. She'll always ask you if you want to work on something."

For all the good times experienced already, both Isip and Jullien were clear: the season is far from over. Three tough matches against Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine still loom, and the WCC Tournament will offer a whole new set of challenges on the last weekend of April.

"It's going to be tough all the way. We have to keep working hard at practice and just do what we've been doing," Jullien said. "We have one more month before the conference championship and that's what we want, to win conference. We're going to work hard for it."