BU's court dogs face trial of the century at
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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."