For UCLA's Bill Zaima, the opening 20 matches of last season were enough to make him wonder why he had ever left college coaching in the first place.
His women's team was 20-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. Zaima, who had returned as coach of the Bruins after an 11-year absence, watched his team beat some of the best schools in the country, among them Stanford and USC.
Then, everything fell apart. And Zaima got a quick refresher course in the lows of college coaching. His team dropped six of its last seven matches heading into the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. team tournament at UCLA. And in that tournament, even playing before a home crowd wasn't nearly enough help as the Bruins lost to eventual champion Stanford in the quarterfinals, 5-1.
This year, it seems, the fourth-ranked Bruins are determined to go about things differently. As in, starting slower and finishing stronger. Actually, UCLA didn't start that slowly, but the Bruins did lose to Stanford, 7-2, in the National Indoor team tournament at Madison, Wis., in March. The Bruins also dropped a close match to the Trojans, 5-4, in their first dual match.
After losing to USC Friday, UCLA is 18-5. But the Bruins are coming off a recent upset of Stanford, a 6-3 win at Palo Alto, and several outstanding individual performances at the Ojai Valley tournament last weekend.
"Remember, we did the same thing last year, sweeping Cal and Stanford up there," said Zaima of the two victories that occurred during the 20-match winning streak.
"I think what really helped us this year was beating top-10 teams Georgia and BYU at a team tournament earlier this spring. That was our test. We found out we could play. And after losing to Stanford (at Madison), ever since then this team has really turned into a national contender."
The Bruins, who will again be the host team for the NCAA tournament May 11-19, have been helped recently by their three freshmen, Jessica Emmons, Kirsten Dreyer and Stella Sampras. Emmons and Dreyer, playing No. 2 and 3 respectively, won against Stanford. And, Sampras, who is from Rancho Palos Verdes, beat Emmons at Ojai as she reached the Pacific 10 singles final, losing to Stanford's Lisa Green.
"Stella is very solid," Zaima said. "I think at first she was a little bit awed by the intensity of these college matches. They are almost like wars out there."
Finally, it seems as though a decision will be made this week on where the 1989 NCAA men's team and individual tournament is headed. This year, it is at the University of Georgia in Athens, May 20-28.
Both UCLA and the Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells submitted bids for the 1989 event, and at one time Grand Champions appeared to be the choice. The men's tennis subcommittee, which includes Chapman Coach Mike Edles and UC Irvine Athletic Director John Caine, voted unanimously for Indian Wells.
Then, however, a NCAA executive committee sent the proposals back last winter for more consideration and additional research. The general thought was that this group preferred to keep the tournament at a university. But the tennis subcommittee, after receiving the second bids from UCLA and Indian Wells again voted unanimously for Grand Champions.
"Hopefully, it will become official . . . for a second time," said Dee Dee Felich, who is the tournament manager for the Newsweek Champions Cup at Indian Wells.
USC Coach Dick Leach, one of the more vocal advocates of the proposed move, believes that the executive committee will award the tournament to Indian Wells.
"My gut feeling is that it will be held at Grand Champions," he said. "There is an $85,000 difference in bids and I don't think the NCAA will want to leave that kind of money on the table."
If Florida and Stanford should meet in the women's team semifinals--as they did last year--instead of the final, the contest will likely be much closer this time. In 1987, the Cardinal won, 5-1, clinching the match before the doubles competition.
Until the recent loss to UCLA, Stanford had suffered just one defeat, against Florida, at the National Indoor in Madison. Florida won, 5-4, Halle Cioffi and Cathy Goodrich beating Cari Hagey and Sandra Birch in the deciding No. 1 doubles match, 7-5, 5-7, 6-1. The Gators have one blemish on their record, a 5-3 loss at the hands of USC at Los Angeles in February.
Cioffi, who plays No. 1 for Florida, recently attracted attention when she defeated Zina Garrison en route to a semifinal finish at a professional tournament in Largo, Fla.
She had previously drawn scrutiny when she arrived at the Gainesville school this winter on a track--not tennis--scholarship. She is required to run in five meets and practice with Florida's track team to keep the scholarship and has finished last in every meet so far. For instance, her time in the 1,000 meters was 3 minutes 26 seconds at one meet.
"I try so hard, but all the others are so much faster than me," she said at the Largo tournament. "It's so funny, almost embarrassing."