The excitement kicked off with our gymnastics team beating Florida on Friday night in a down-to-the-wire contest that ultimately required our two seniors, Diandra Milliner and Kim Jacob, each scoring 9.85 in the final event of the evening to bring home the victory.
Although entering her 17th season as head coach for The University of Alabama's women's tennis team, Jenny Mainz's philosophy on coaching remains the same. This past season was one of many great accomplishments, and Mainz is confident that the upcoming 2013-14 season will be no different.
"I'm not surprised at all by the success we've been able to achieve these past few seasons," says Mainz. "Our team has been diligent and worked tirelessly to be able to have the foresight to recognize a problem and the fortitude to execute the solution. Our success has definitely been exciting though. We are certainly capable of winning an SEC championship and even a national championship in the coming years, and I think we're really moving in the right direction to be able to do that."
It was evident Mainz was putting something special together early on in 2011 when the Tide went to the USTA/ITA Southern Regional Championships and swept both the singles and doubles titles, which granted Alabama a spot in the prestigious USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships in Flushing, N.Y. That success continued on into dual match play, where the Tide went 15-5 in the regular season en route to capturing the 2011 SEC Western Division title.
Alabama bettered its win total in 2012, capturing 18 overall victories and earning the right to host the NCAA First and Second Rounds for the first time. The Tide also had some very noteworthy wins at No. 5 Georgia, marking Alabama's second win over the Bulldogs and first since 1977, as well as its first 7-0 sweep of South Carolina in program history. Alabama recorded its best finish in the SEC, coming in at No. 2 with a 10-1 record en route to its fourth SEC Western Division title, and second in two years.
The 2013 season was certainly one for the record books, beginning on opening weekend where the Tide beat Memphis and Clemson to advance to its first USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships. Alabama again, hosted the NCAA First and Second Rounds in Tuscaloosa, this time winning out in the region and thus awarding Alabama its first ticket to the NCAA Championship Round of 16. The Tide finished the season with 21 wins, marking the first 20-win season under Mainz, and had several individual award winners in the league including Antonia Foehse, Alexa Guarachi, Mary Anne Macfarlane and Natalia Maynetto.
Mainz attributes her team's recent success to each player's relentless attitude and unwillingness to surrender, and though it would be easy for Mainz to take all of the credit herself, she is quick to point out how this is the program's success and not hers alone.
"The success our program has experienced has definitely been a collective effort," says Mainz. "Everyone - from the players, to the assistant coaches, to the trainers, to the student advisors, to the administrators - has played a role in helping us achieve this level of success. The head coach may lead the program, but it has to be done with the right people backing you up."
And lead the program she has. Mainz was named the 2013 Wilson/ITA National Coach of the Year after earning SEC Coach of the Year honors in 2011 and 2012. In addition to the team's 2012 success, Mainz had several individuals shine, led by Guarachi and Macfarlane. Guarachi, the winningest player ever to wear the crimson and white, became the first in Tide history to earn ITA All-America honors in singles and doubles in the same season. In addition, she was the first to advance to the NCAA Singles Championship semifinals as well as the NCAA Doubles Championship semifinals with Macfarlane. The duo also went on to earn a spot on the prestigious ITA All-Star Team.
As proud as Mainz is of her team's on-court success, she is equally as proud of their academic success. Alabama boasts the past two NCAA Elite 89 Award recipients in Macfarlane (2012) and Emily Zabor (2013), along with three consecutive SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year in Courtney McLane (2011, 12) and Foehse (2013).
"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.
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.
"I always stress that you have to do the work day in and day out," says Mainz. "We also work every day to make improvements. Every single one of our players has gotten better during their time playing tennis for UA. And finally, we try to make sure that our environment is one where there are no superstars; everyone is on an equal plane."
Mainz says that her players play for each other as much as they play with each other.
"We all are cooperative and supportive of each other, and above all, we have fun together," says Mainz. "Everyone on the team has a role to play, whether they're in the number one position or the number eight position. I always tell the girls that we are an 8-cylinder machine, and we have to fire every time we go out."
Looking to the future, Mainz is focused on continuing to recruit not simply the best players but also the right players.
"Recruiting is one of the keys to any successful program. We continue to recruit players who have their best years of tennis in front of them--players who will work hard and display a championship mentality," says Mainz.
Mainz adds that working to build a strong program is a process, and one that the team continues to build upon each season.
"What I really want to emphasize with our program is that everything we do is to help build and increase our level of success," says Mainz. "It's all about playing together and getting better every day. Those strides may be on the court, in the classroom, socially or within the community, but we are always striving to make improvements."
Mainz, the only coach in Alabama history to take the Tide to six consecutive NCAA Championships and 10 overall, has coached 10 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 2012 squad made history, wrapping up the season in the No. 11 spot, which is the highest final ranking for the program. The Tide was ranked in the top-10 throughout this past season and also finished at No. 11 in the final poll of 2013.
Mainz is actively involved in collegiate tennis on the national front, serving on the ITA's Operating Committee. She also served as the chairperson for the ITA's South Region for five years and assumed the same role for the newly-formed Southern Region in 2010.
Mainz, once ranked in the top ten 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.