Oct. 16, 2000
Everyone knows about the Tulane football team's 12-0 season in 1998. And pretty much everyone knows about the success the Green Wave women's basketball team has had the last six years under coach Lisa Stockton. And most folks might be aware of the conference championships and consistent NCAA Tournament appearances turned in by coach Rick Jones' baseball squad. But what Tulane fans might not know is that Tulane has quietly been one of the top schools in the nation for men's and women's tennis. And while the Green Wave has had solid tennis teams in the very recent past, the very near future is looking better and better.
To understand the present state of Tulane tennis, it helps to understand the past. For years, Tulane was perhaps the preeminent school for men's tennis in the nation. Between the founding of the SEC in 1933, until Tulane's departure from the league in the late 1960's, the Green Wave men's team won 18 conference championships and won 61 individual league champions. The Wave won the 1959 NCAA title, to this date the only team national championship in Tulane history, while finishing as national runners-up in 1949 and 1957. In short, when you thought of college tennis, you thought of Tulane. With the death of legendary head coach Emmett Pare in the mid-1970's, the team understandably declined. Oh, the team was still moderately successful year-in and year-out, but not at quite the same national level.
It was at about this time, the mid-1970's, that women's tennis made its debut at Tulane. And while the Green Wave women never achieved the same national stature as those early men's teams, the squad had its share of success. For the rest of the 1970's, throughout the 1980's and even into the 1990's, it was the same for both teams - good, solid seasons each year, but nothing extraordinary.
Things have changed for the better, though. With the addition of Robert Klein as the head of the men's program and with David Schumacher taking over the reigns of the women's program, things are looking up indeed. In 1998, both teams made the NCAA Tournament, making Tulane one of just a handful of schools to have both its men's team and its women's team reach the post-season.
"We are moving in the right direction," Schumacher said. "But we're not satisfied. In the last few years, the women's team achieved its first-ever national ranking, and now we are a Top 50 team. We definitely want to keep improving. Recruiting is a big part of it. Success breads success. With a good ranking we can recruit better players. And with better players, our ranking will only go higher."
Klein expressed similar thoughts. "At a minimum we want to accomplish what we did last season. This year will only be a success if we compete for a Conference USA championship and get an NCAA berth. Last year we had a good year, but we want to improve."
The 2000-01 campaign promises to bring another successful season for both Green Wave teams. The Tulane women return virtually its entire line-up from last season's squad that posted a 14-9 record and a third-place finish at the Conference USA Tournament. And though the Wave just missed out on a trip to the NCAA Tournament, the experience last season's young team earned will prove invaluable.
"The girls have been working really hard," Schumacher said. "They are all playing some of the best tennis I've seen them play. They are all determined competitors that fight hard and they work hard in practice every single day. We are in the middle of the Fall tournament season, where the players play individually, and so far the results have been outstanding. We're disappointed we didn't make the NCAA Tournament last year, but hopefully we can take the guess-work out of it by getting the automatic bid from winning the Conference USA Tournament. We have been in a good position the last few years and hopefully that experience of being close will help."
The Tulane men, on the other hand, feature a line-up filled with newcomers. Despite losing its two of its top three singles players, the Green Wave should once again be in a position to challenge for an NCAA berth. The Tulane men also finished third at last season's Conference USA Tournament, but look to return to the form that saw them win the 1997 league title.
"We had a good recruiting class and it is the largest in school history," Klein said. "By the time January rolls around, seven of our 10 players will be newcomers. We really need them to contribute right away, but they are all accomplished players who should add a lot to the team."
Both squads regularly play some of the toughest competition in the nation, and this season will be no different. Both schedules are a regular list of who's who in college tennis. The Green men will face the likes of Michigan, Miami, Baylor, Oklahoma, SMU, Michigan State, TCU, Tennessee and Arkansas, as well as appearing in the prestigious Blue-Gray Classic. In addition, the men will play host to the 2001 Conference USA Tournament, April 19-23, at the Goldring Tennis Complex. The Green Wave women have also put together an impressive schedule and will meet Penn State, Florida State, Arizona State, Vanderbilt, Arizona, SMU and rival LSU, among others.
The highlight of the Fall season for both teams, however, come on back-to-back weekends at the end of October. Each team will host its own tournament at the Goldring Complex. The men's tournament, the Tulane Invitational, is set to begin on Friday, Oct. 22 and will run through Sunday, Oct. 24, while the Green Wave Classic, the women's tournament, will start on Friday, Oct. 27 and wrap up on Sunday, Oct. 29.
"Our tournament gives us a chance to measure ourselves against the top teams from this area. And it is a good chance for our players to play at home against the top players from LSU, Arkansas, Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern Miss, among others. In the spring we have 15 nationally ranked teams on our schedule, including Tennessee and Baylor at home. And both were Top 10 teams last year. Our players will get to see the very best of college tennis this year, and many of the matches will be at home."
Added Schumacher, "I believe you have to have a schedule that allows the best players to play against people on the same level. We were a little surprised that we were able to schedule as many top teams as we were. Arizona State was No. 3 last year. Vanderbilt, South Alabama, TCU, Florida State... They were all top teams last year. Our tournament will be a good tournament. South Alabama should be bringing their top players. LSU and Mississippi should be bringing their top players. You are not going to find a stronger women's tournament in the area."
With the goals and expectations that each coach has set for his
program, there is little doubt that Tulane could be at the top of the
college tennis world again soon.