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Netter Follows in Billie Jean's Footsteps : Golden Eagle's Edna Olivarez Soars Above CCAA Competition

April 30, 1987|IRENE GARCIA | Times Staff Writer

Not since Billie Jean King in the mid '60s, when Cal State Los Angeles was a powerhouse in women's tennis, have the Golden Eagles had a player like Edna Olivarez.

King was still Billie Jean Moffitt, a 19-year-old ranked 10th in the world, and CSLA was still Los Angeles State College the last time women's tennis was a dominating force.

Back then the Golden Eagles had tennis greats like Carole Caldwell and Susan Behlmar but since then haven't been successful.

That makes Olivarez stand out even more, not only on the CSLA squad, which finished with an average 12-11 record, but in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. (6-5 record) and even in the world of NCAA Division II tennis.

"She's like a backboard," Coach Tom Yamaguchi said. "She's consistent and has court sense. She knows where the ball is going and gets to it."

Aside from being the dominant player in the CCAA, the strongest league in Division II, Olivarez is the nation's top-ranked singles player in her division. She earned that with an impressive freshman season with a 34-4 record as CSLA's No. 2 player.

In her two-year career at CSLA, no one in the CCAA has beaten the 20-year-old. Her two-year record is 23-0 in league and 71-7 overall.

That means she's won 91% of her matches. This season she cruised through matches, winning all in straight sets. Last year only Xenia Anastasiadou of top-ranked Cal Poly Pomona, the nation's second-ranked Division II player, took her into three sets.

"She moves quickly and never gives up," said Pomona Coach Bob Gelfand, who watched his best player, Anastasiadou, get wiped 6-1, 6-1 by Olivarez in a league match this season.

Olivarez is deceiving because she's only 5-1. Although smaller than most women tennis players, she covers the court like a blanket, moves like a barracuda and pounds balls as hard as a big player.

"She's so little that you think it's no big deal," said Cal State Northridge's top player, Kelly Gratten, who won only one game off Olivarez. "But she's steady. She stands at the baseline and just lets you have those ground strokes."

Olivarez decided to leave her native Manila in the Philippines, where she was the best female player, for an education here and to play at a higher level.

"Since I was 16, I've played on the national team there," Olivarez said with a heavy accent. "I was the best player there and the competition wasn't that good, so I moved because I wanted to be better."

For two years she was the queen of the court in the Philippines. She was the 1985 Rodriguez Cup champion after beating top-ranked junior players from Hong Kong and Indonesia, and she was a bronze medalist in the Southeast Asian Games that year.

So when she decided to make the move to the U.S.--specifically to Southern California where competition is fierce--Olivarez knew she would no longer be the the best.

"It really is different here," she said. "There are lots of very good players and lots of good tournaments.

"In my country there are few tournaments because there aren't many strong players. That's why they have such a hard time producing good tennis players in the Philippines."

But even 7,261 miles away from where she dominated the sport, she's managed to stay on top. It would be difficult to overlook her accomplishments even though she competes in an arena with some of the nation's best.

Last year as the new kid in town she swept the Intercollegiate Tennis Coaches Assn. Western Regional championships and reached the final four in the nationals despite a fever.

She was named MVP in the CCAA and received double All-American honors in the NCAA and the ITCA. She was also the ITCA rookie of the year.

"She's already the winningest player we've ever had," Yamaguchi said. "She can still do more, much more, because she is one of the steadiest mental players I've ever seen."

Olivarez rarely talks or shows emotion, even when up against big-time Division I players. She just goes out and plays.

"I just hit the ball and I tell myself that I have to do my best," she said.

"It did bother me last year when they all underestimated me. They thought they were going to beat me real easy because they really didn't know me or anything about my game. So I just played and beat them."

It doesn't bother Olivarez anymore if anyone underestimates her--and not many do. She's proved herself in several tournaments this year, including the Riviera Invitational at the beginning of the season.

In that tournament the nation's top collegiate players battle it out in preseason matches to find out where the competition stands.

Going into the tournament, Olivarez had been overshadowed by the Division I stars, but she impressed many with her performance.

She wasn't even in the main draw so had to play extra rounds to qualify, but she won eight rounds against highly ranked Division I players from UC Berkeley, Brigham Young and UC Santa Barbara.

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