Preview: Women's Tennis NCAA Championship Round of 16
The Capstone "The Capstone" is a nickname for The University of Alabama, but in its literal sense, it means the top stone or high point. For The University of Alabama's women's tennis team and head coach Jenny Mainz, it's a guidepost for a program whose roots are grounded in a philosophy of building a program brick-by-brick over time with character, integrity, a strong work ethic, good sportsmanship and teamwork. A Capstone can never be placed on a foundation built on anything less, the way Coach Mainz sees it. Success is not defined by a single match, season, or team--but rather it is the cumulative body of work in the constant pursuit of excellence over time--inside the classroom, on the court, and in the community.
"Playing for Jenny is a great experience," senior captain Emily Zabor said. "She's a huge reason I chose Alabama and was attracted to it. I immediately knew that her positivity was contagious. I think I've grown so much because she's believed in me and she always believes in the team."
On the Court In 18 seasons leading the Crimson Tide women's tennis team, Mainz has taken the program to heights never before seen in the program's long and rich history. Mainz, the only coach in Alabama history to take the Tide to six consecutive NCAA Championships and 11 overall, has coached 11 teams that have finished in the top 40 in addition to 18 singles players and 13 doubles teams ranked in the final Intercollegiate Tennis Association polls. Her teams have consistently qualified for the NCAAs, earning the right to take part in postseason play a total of 11 times during her tenure at the Capstone.
Over her last four seasons, Mainz has coached the Crimson Tide to some truly great heights. In 2012, her doubles pairing of Alexa Guarachi and Mary Anne Daines reached the final four in doubles. Guarachi also reached the final four in singles in that same season. The success of her individual athletes continued this past season, with Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe earning the Crimson Tide's first-ever national championship in doubles action. The pairing of Jansen and Routliffe claimed their national title and finished ranked as the top-seeded doubles team in the nation according to the ITA's final rankings for the 2014 spring season.
The Crimson Tide have been consistently ranked in the ITA's top-10 rankings each of the past three seasons and continue to play elite-level tennis in the Southeastern Conference. In 2011, UA finished fourth in the conference and claimed the SEC Western Division title for the regular season. The Tide once again claimed the Western Division title in 2012, this time finishing second overall. For the 2013 season, Alabama was ranked fourth in the conference, but the Crimson Tide continued to build upon its success as the team entered 2014.
Her 2014 squad made history, wrapping up the season as the sixth-ranked squad in the ITA rankings, which is the highest final ranking for the program. Alabama was ranked in the top-10 throughout the year, reaching a No. 2 ranking on May 1, the highest rank in the history of the program. The 2014 Crimson Tide women finished with just one loss in conference play and posted seven 4-0 sweeps throughout the season. But the most noteworthy accomplishment Mainz pulled off last season was capturing the program's first ever Southeastern Conference Championship. With a 4-3, come-from-behind victory at eighth-ranked Georgia, Alabama clinched at least a part of the 2014 SEC title; that wasn't enough for the Tide women. Alabama followed that up with a 4-0 sweep of Tennessee to claim the conference title outright on the final day of the season.
For a program that was 0-21 her first season to a conference champion, Mainz has surely transformed the women's tennis program into a perennial power and one of the University's most consistent teams.
In the Classroom As proud as she is of her team's on-court success, Mainz is equally as proud of their academic success. The Alabama women have impressed in the classroom each year under her tutelage. Most recently, the team earned the highest grade point average by an Alabama women's team following the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. In the past four seasons, the Tide women have laid claim to 21 ITA Scholar Athlete Awards, with five apiece coming in the first three campaigns and a program-best six following last season. The Crimson Tide's efforts in the classroom are unmatched as the women continue to lay claim to the conference's and NCAA's most prestigious academic awards following each season.
In the last four years, at least one member of the UA women's tennis team has been named to the CoSIDA/Capital One Academic All-America team while the Tide has also claimed four consecutive SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year Awards for women's tennis. Also, during those three seasons, a member of the women's team has claimed the NCAA Elite 89 Award, an honor that is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA's 89 championships.
"Academic success is imperative. I have always stressed the importance of academics and I always tell my players that no one can ever take your education away from you. I hope to help produce student-athletes who are well equipped to make an impact beyond tennis," says Mainz.
Being named to the CoSIDA/Capital One Academic All-America Women's At-Large Team started following the 2010-11 season, when Courtney McLane claimed the honor for the Tide. McLane received the award a second consecutive year following the 2011-12 season, as well. Following McLane's graduation, Antonia Foehse picked up where McLane left off, winning the award following the 2012-13 season. This past season, Mary Anne Daines followed her ex-teammates in earning the honor once again for Alabama women's tennis.
McLane was also honored by the conference for her academic success, earning the Southeastern Conference Scholar Athlete of the Year award in 2011 and 2012. The same progression the Crimson Tide saw with the CoSIDA/Capital One All-American awards continued on in the conference as well, with Foehse claiming Scholar Athlete honors in 2013 and Daines earning the award in 2014.
Alabama's on-court success has helped them to achieve a prestigious honor in claiming three consecutive Elite 89 Awards. Daines claimed the Crimson Tide's first ever Elite 89 Award in 2012. The women didn't stop there though, with Zabor claiming it in each of the last two seasons and looking to keep the trend alive this season.
In order to help produce such well-rounded young women, Mainz preaches three core values to her players: having a blue-collar work ethic, striving for constant improvement and working together as a team.
"She believes in her players and takes the time to build a relationship with them," senior captain Emily Zabor said of Mainz. "She really cares about us as people and doesn't just look to us to do her dirty work and win championships. She wants us to succeed in the classroom, succeed on the court and enjoy ourselves while we're here. Her ability to create a relationship with us, and not just want us to be talented and win, gives us so much."
The Crimson Tide athletes under Mainz have seen a lot of success during their active time as an athlete with the team, but the women don't stop their studies once their playing days are over. Alabama women have earned three consecutive NCAA postgraduate scholarships to continue studies as the former athletes transition from student-athlete to just student. In 2012 Taylor Lindsey earned the honor for the Crimson Tide. She was followed up by Foehse in 2013 and Daines in 2014.
Although much of the successes of any athletic team are seen on the court, Mainz has produced well-rounded athletes that work just as hard away from the sport. Her women continue to exemplify exactly what it means to be a student-athlete at The University of Alabama.
In the Community In order to build the best possible person, not just athletes, Mainz has placed a focus on community service and giving back to the Tuscaloosa area. Her athletes are not just stars on the court and in the classroom, but they are also champions of the University and make an impact on their community.
Every year, the women's tennis team makes it a point to take advantage of every opportunity they have to help out those in need in Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas. In the past two years, the team has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to help build a house for a person in need. The team also takes part annually in the athletic department's Halloween Extravaganza for local youth, as well as the Project AngelTree event, in which student-athletes help in making sure that children of incarcerated parents are provided presents each December holiday season.
For all their hard work on the court and in the community, Mainz and her team received a proclamation from Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox, making September 16, 2014 "University of Alabama Women's Tennis Day". The proclamation was given to the team in recognition of all that they have done in the past year, and to make sure that the community takes note of the accomplishments of the Alabama tennis program.
Mainz is actively involved in collegiate tennis on the national front, serving on the ITA's Operating Committee from 2010-14. She also served as the chairperson for the ITA's South Region for three years and assumed the same role for the newly formed Southern Region in 2010, a position which she still maintains going into this season. Possibly her most prestigious work on the national front came in 2014, when the Alabama coach was a member of the ITA Board of Directors and served as the co-chair of the Division I Women's Committee for the ITA.
Before Leading the Tide Mainz, once ranked in the top 10 nationally in doubles, was a three-year team captain for the University of Houston Cougars and a two-time All-Southwest Conference selection, garnering numerous accolades for her dedication to the game of tennis on the court. Off the court, however, is where she truly shined, earning CoSIDA GTE Academic All-America status and dean's list honors while also being a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society. Mainz graduated with a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from Houston in 1991.