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Week of 14 May 1999

Vol. II, No. 34



BU's Summer Term Recreational Sailing Program runs from May 24 to August 14. Fees are $80, $50 for part-time students, faculty, and staff, and $45 for full-time students. For more information, call 353-2748.

BU Sports Web Page

Catch postseason results for women's tennis (see story below), along with men's crew (National Championships, May 27-29) and women's crew (Eastern Championships, May 17), at www.gobu.com.


BU's court dogs face trial of the century at NCAA

By Amy E. Dean

Forget about O.J. and the Lindbergh kidnapping. For the BU women's tennis team, the trial of the century is on a court in Malibu, Calif. For the first time in the history of the program, the Terriers are going to the Tennis Ball -- the NCAA tournament.

The Terriers will face Pepperdine University in Malibu on May 15, while across the nation 15 other sites will host 4 teams each. The winning teams will volley at a sweet-16 matchup, and those winners will advance to the final 4. Then the nation's number one women's tennis team will be crowned.

Head Coach Lesley Sheehan (SED'84), now in her 14th season, is familiar with this biggest of tennis court trials. As an individual BU Hall of Famer, she qualified in her junior year for the NCAA and closed out a court-dominating undergraduate career with an invitation to the 1984 NCAAs at UCLA.

Tennis cocaptains

Women's tennis cocaptains Jennifer Momii (COM'99) (left) and Mary Granger (SAR'99) have led their team to its first NCAA tournament appearance. The Terriers will play Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., on Saturday, May 15. Photo by Vernon Doucette

But for Sheehan as a coach, and for her hard-working players, this is the first invitation to the big dance. Over the years, Sheehan's racketeers have earned an elite position in the Northeast that includes 10 America East championships in the tournament's 11-year history and a national ranking of 40 (out of 300-plus schools). Since Sheehan has been guiding the team, she has received the America East Coach of the Year honor three times, including this year.

California dreaming
But going to the NCAA, says Sheehan, is an incredible opportunity for an East Coast team to make a statement to the higher ranked colleges. "The schools in the warmer climates have the highest rankings," she explains. "This includes the University of Florida, Stanford, Duke, UCLA, William and Mary, and Cal Berkeley." Being able to maintain a sharp, competitive edge over the duration of what is perhaps the longest athletic season in all of intercollegiate sports is criti-cal to earning the right to play against the country's top teams. "What a lot of people don't realize is that the tennis program is year-round," Sheehan says. "We begin our fall season on the first day of classes and have our last regular-season match in early May. The biggest challenge I face as a coach is how to keep my players motivated all year while they keep up their academics."

Matches can also be draining, running from four to six hours long. During a typical match day, the players wake up at 5:30, are on the court at 7:30 for the first match at 8, and then play all day. "If we're on the road, often we don't get back to the hotel until 11 p.m. And players can't let down at all in their training and conditioning during the summer or they won't be ready for the fall."

Despite such a grueling schedule, senior cocaptains Mary Granger (SAR'99), an import from England majoring in clinical exercise physiology, and Jennifer Momii (COM'99), a California girl who plans a career in magazine journalism, always believed the team had the talent to get where it is. At the first team meeting last fall, the Terriers chose their mission statements: Be in our best shape, Try our hardest on court while being good sports, and prophetically, Get into NCAAs. "We never doubted the fact that we could accomplish our goals," says Momii.

Sharpening the mental edge
But few predicted the Terriers would land feet-first in the NCAA tournament. The team's performance during the season was viewed by many as a roller-coaster ride. After starting out strong in the fall, injuries hobbled half the team. By spring the Dogs were mended and initially courted success, only to drop the ball in six hard-fought losses, which chipped away at the team's confidence. "They were working hard and trying hard," Sheehan says, "but they got discouraged. The worst part of those six matches was the Virginia trip. We were playing in 42-degree weather and I was sick the whole weekend. We played three hard matches in a row. Then our flight home was late; we didn't get in until 2 a.m. We were exhausted. These are not excuses. But the hard question I faced as their coach was, 'How do I get them out of the slump?' So we talked about what we could do as a team.

"The turning point came when I got a sports psychologist to come in and talk to them. I said, 'I have a great team. They all get along great. They're just a little discouraged. They need to know that the mental aspect is a big part of the game.' So the psychologist asked, 'How much of the game do you think is mental?' One player said it was 90 percent. Another player said, 'No, it's 50 percent.' The psychologist then asked all the players, 'How hard are you working on your mental game?' The next day we faced Syracuse, and we beat them."

The win restored the team's confidence, although Momii insists the psychologist wasn't the main reason for the turnaround. "He reminded us of a lot of things we already knew," she says. "With such a long season, we knew it was just a matter of time before things would pick up again. And we peaked at the right time." The Terriers went on to win the America East tournament and earn a spot in the NCAAs. They also picked up a first-time, dominating win over Ivy League champ Harvard on Terrier turf.

Sheehan can coach her players at any time during a match, particularly during the one-and-a-half-minute breaks during odd changeovers and the precious 20 seconds between points, but "this can get a little tricky," she says. "You don't want to overcoach them or get them thinking too much. You have to know your players really well. You have to know what will motivate them and what will disrupt them."

"She helps all of us with strategy," says Momii. "If we're not doing well, she focuses on the opponent's weaknesses, not ours. She really does believe in us, and her confidence has helped us to be so supportive of one another."

"Tennis is a mental game," Sheehan adds. "It's a game of mistakes, and you have to be able to handle your mistakes. You can double-fault 20 times in a match and still win it. And even though tennis is an individual sport and a player's rankings may change from match to match, the point is for each player to believe in herself and win for the team."

The Terriers are well aware that they are writing a new chapter in the story of women's tennis at BU. "It's great to have an opportunity to compete at this level," says Momii. "And it's such a thrill to be a part of history."