MORAGA, Calif. -- For four years now, the Saint Mary's women's tennis team has ended its season in the NCAA Tournament.
That kind of consistency is tough to find in any sport, but the recently completed 2013 season proved yet another example that the bar continues to be set just a little bit higher when it comes to the Gaels efforts on the court.
Saint Mary's wrapped up the regular season as West Coast Conference champion, tying Pepperdine and Santa Clara atop the standings but earning the No. 1 seed at the WCC Tournament due to being the higher-ranked team.
An appearance in the conference tournament final was followed by a fourth-straight selection to the NCAA Tournament, and Jenny Jullien was named WCC Player of the Year en route to her own appearance in the NCAA Singles Championships.
Along the way, there were plenty of other highlights, with a win over No. 7 Stanford giving the Gaels their first-ever victory over a top-10 team. Saint Mary's earned wins over six ranked opponents in 2013, also defeating No. 51 UNLV, No. 26 Oklahoma, No. 51/56 San Diego (twice) and No. 71 Loyola Marymount.
"Looking back, we definitely accomplished several of our goals with the regular season title and an NCAA bid," Saint Mary's coach Lisa Alipaz said. "The win against Stanford will undoubtedly be a career highlight for all of our players and me as well. I think every girl on the team improved some aspect of their game which is always rewarding as a coach and something I'm proud of. "
Leading the way atop the lineup all season was Jullien. Only a junior, the native of Perpignan, France joined former teammate Alex Poorta as the only Saint Mary's players ever to win the conference's top honor and compete at the NCAA Singles Championships.
She did it by taking on all comers. Jullien went 10-8 against ranked opponents, defeating three players ranked in the top 10. She went 7-1 in conference play, and finished the spring with a 17-8 overall record.
"Jenny had an epic year. She has made monumental improvements from her freshman year when she started at No. 5," Alipaz said. "That has everything to do with her drive to improve and passion for the game and incomparable work ethic. She is truly a student of the game and is always tinkering with something in some way or fashion so that she can improve."
That progression will continue for Jullien, who will return next season as one of the top players in the country.
"She is never satisfied. She wants more, knows she can do more, and is willing to work even harder to be better next season," Alipaz said. "I'm really looking forward to her senior season."
While Jullien showed how bright the future is, the Gaels also said goodbye to one of the greatest players in program history.
The lone senior on the team, Catherine Isip closed her career in fine fashion. The native of Anaheim, Calif. was named to the All-WCC second team, finished the season 13-11 and went 7-1 in conference play.
Isip leaves Saint Mary's as one of the program's most decorated players, having earned All-WCC honors all four years. The WCC Freshman of the Year in 2010, she continued to get better and better, helping the Gaels reach the NCAA Tournament in each of her four years at SMC.
The 2013 Gaels were far from a two-person show. Whether in singles or doubles, Danielle Flores, Jade Frampton, Catherine Leduc, Audrey Leitz and Elizabeth Searl all played huge roles in the team's success.
For as decorated as they were individually, the Gaels combined to create one particular moment that will be remembered for many years to come.
Ranked No. 47 at the time, Saint Mary's took the drive south to face No. 7 Stanford on Feb. 16. A win in doubles gave the Gaels the first point of the day, and the two teams battled to a 3-3 draw with one match left on court.
That left No. 5 singles to determine a winner, with Leduc battling Stanford's Natalie Dillon. After Dillon took the first set 6-4, Leduc rallied to win the second in a tiebreaker and force a third.
With teammates looking on, Leduc clinched one of the biggest wins in program history, winning the third set 6-3 to give the Gaels the 4-3 victory and their first-ever win over a top-10 team.
Expectations remain high for the next group of Gaels. With everyone but Isip returning, Saint Mary's brings back one of the most experienced teams in the WCC. And, as students and coaches break away for a little summer rest and relaxation, thoughts have already begun to turn to next season.
"As always, I'm looking forward to a little down time with the family," Alipaz said. "But the 2013-14 season is right around the corner and I know the returners are motivated to come back more fit and ready to battle in the fall."