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Coach's Return May Signal Revival of Bruin Tennis

March 05, 1987|IRENE GARCIA | Times Staff Writer

Coaches come and go, but even when UCLA women's tennis coach Bill Zaima left as the head man in 1976 he never really went anywhere. He still contributed as a volunteer assistant.

Now, after the nine-year reign of Coach Gayle Godwin, Zaima's back as head coach and the glory days of UCLA women's tennis seem to have returned with him. The Bruins are 11-0, and past and present players alike give the credit to Zaima.

"Bill is really into development and improvement and he takes the time to point things out," said UCLA's top player, Jane Thomas. "We've always had good players. The potential was always there, but no one tapped it and now Bill is."

Zaima was head coach of the Bruins during the infancy of women's athletics in 1972 before he became manager of UCLA's Sunset Canyon Recreation Center. His record was 61-12, and he led the Bruins to a second-place finish in 1973 when the team competed in the U.S. Tennis Assn.

Godwin, who played for the Bruins in 1973, was his assistant. She was elevated into the top spot when he left.

Godwin, who ended her career at UCLA with a 220-66 record, led the Bruins to their only national championship in 1981.

Back then, UCLA had a team that attracted high school All-American Barbara Gerken and top junior tennis prospects Andrea Kriva and Penny Barg. UCLA was the destination of many Federation Cup players during its tennis peak in the late '70s and early '80s.

But after sweeping the Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women Nationals in 1981, the Bruin program began to slump.

In 1982 the Bruins slipped to second place and in '83 they finished third. In 1984 they dropped to fifth and all the way to ninth during Godwin's last two seasons in '85 and '86.

"Gail experienced a lot of physical problems and she lost a little bit of the enthusiasm she once had," said women's Athletic Director Judith Holland. "I started to see behavior problems."

And so did a lot of others.

"She just wasn't good at communicating. I think Bill is more interested in communicating with his team, which is important," said former Bruin Shannon Gordon, who played under Godwin for three years and earned All-American honors in 1978 and '79.

Some of the problems were outside Godwin's control.

For example, injuries hampered Andrea Kriva in 1983 and Allyson Cooper last season. And top players were turning pro with little notice. Such was the case with Gerken, Kathrin Keil and Patricia Hy.

Godwin also had difficulty controlling her squad .

"She had problems dealing with people who were prima donna types," said former UCLA All-American Karen Dewis. "These were people who had their own coaches and were used to playing in high-class junior events. A lot of them played pro tournaments when they were 17 in Australia or Hong Kong.

"But she also accepted too much. She pampered players too much because she figured they're so good they got good by being that way. She needed to apply more discipline."

So Godwin, who was not available for comment, resigned at the end of last season and Zaima was asked to take over.

Now the 39-year old veteran coach has the task of getting the team back on its feet.

He's hoping for a resurrection of a program once the most prestigious in collegiate tennis.

And many agree he can do it.

"Bill is definitely a move for the better," said Pepperdine tennis Coach Gualberto Escudero, who prefers not to comment on the days when Godwin was UCLA's coach.

USC's Dave Borelli says Zaima is a respected coach with a positive attitude.

More important is the approval of the players.

"With Gayle it kind of got to be a chore to go to practice," Thomas said. "Now it's better and more organized. Bill's attitude is very positive, and with the new assistant coaches we get a lot of personal attention."

The extra attention will come from former University of California assistant coach Mathew Iandolo, who was picked by Zaima, and three-time All-American Lynn Lewis, a former Bruin.

"The main thing that Bill has done is instill a sense of pride in the team. He's very good at preparation and discipline," Iandolo said.

"His goals are extremely high. He plans to get the program back to where it was in 1981, and I think he can."

And how does Zaima plan to do that?

"By attacking our opponents. I like the attack game," he said.

He's got his players doing more aggressive drills during practice, and anyone who watched Thomas wipe out Pepperdine's Marisa Sanchez a couple of weeks ago saw the attack that Zaima favors.

And he's got the right players to do the attacking. Besides two-time All-American Thomas, there is junior Joni Urban, a 1985 All-American, sophomore Jennifer Fuchs and Cooper, who's a junior along with Maria LaFranchi and Catherine O'Meara.

"We've got tremendous depth," Zaima said.

Zaima plans to do things differently from his predecessor. He plans to recruit his athletes in a different manner as well.

"I want to get real involved with recruiting. Gayle coached a junior Federation Cup team so she was not able to recruit," he said.

It all sounds good: a new leader who has a new game plan for his players, new recruiting techniques and a new winning attitude.

With that in place, Zaima plans to at least get past the round of 16 in this year's NCAA Championships and make the program an annual contender for the national title.

"I know it can be done and it shouldn't be too tough, because we have everything to do it here at UCLA. We have the athletics and the academics to go with it."

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