You Can't Get to 40 Without Love: LaPlante Still Going Strong in Year 40
LA JOLLA, Calif. - It was handwritten in fun purple and pink lettering on white cardstock paper by her Tritons, marking one of several posters created for Senior Day about a month ago on April 13.
You can't get to 40 without love.
Simple...yet so perfect for a UC San Diego institution in women's tennis head coach Liz LaPlante, as her now-40-year legacy is truly a labor of love for her student-athletes.
As LaPlante told San Diego Union-Tribune writer Tod Leonard for his feature back in January (click here), she certainly didn't expect when she took the helm of the program as a 21-year-old, that she would still be here 40 years later.
So what keeps her going?
"It's like every year, you start a new job in a way, because although you have girls returning, you're also adding new ones to the team," offers LaPlante. "It's the challenge of the job, and trying to get these 10 to 12 women to work cohesively as a team. And it's so much fun seeing those friendships evolve. Obviously, winning makes it more fun. It's just the overall environment that makes me want to keep coming back.
"I'm very competitive, so as a team wins or loses, I take it very personally. If we lose, I want to keep fighting for them and keep making them better. And if we win, it makes me feel good, because my competitiveness comes out in what my team does."
Having been Mother's Day just yesterday, LaPlante says another thing that was nice about the job, was that she was able to raise three children, and still do it.
Inevitably, a lot has changed over LaPlante's 40 years, from the game of tennis itself, to the UC San Diego campus, and of course the fact that the department has moved from the NCAA Division III to Division II during her tenure, and is transitioning once again, to Division I and the Big West Conference in the fall of 2020.
"(Everything's) changed tremendously," says LaPlante. "When I got this job, the program was in its infancy. The amount of help that we get now, and specifically as our Division I move comes, from the strength and conditioning to the athletic training, I mean that stuff has stepped up an incredible amount, and has made a significant difference. Years ago, we didn't even really do weights, and now it's so organized and specific for the sport. It's made a huge difference in our student-athletes."
Rather than recall specific memories over a four-decade span, LaPlante prefers to focus on general recollections that stick with her from her time spent with her squads.
"The most satisfaction I get, and maybe it's the mom in me, is seeing the friendships that evolve every year," she says. "Where these girls don't know each other at all, or just know each other a little bit from tennis. To see them truly care, respect and love each other, and see those friendships last over the years. That, to me, is the most important, and I tell them that in the beginning. To bring that team together, and to see those friendships evolve is really the most important thing, and what gives me the most memories."
LaPlante talks fondly about her new obsession, earning age-group accolades nowadays as a competitive pickleball player.
But how much longer can she keep coaching?
"I don't have a timetable on how long I'm going to coach. I'm 61 years old. I don't think anyone wants to see a 70-year-old coach out here," LaPlante says with a laugh. "I would love to see it through the (Division I) transition, and do it for maybe a couple more years, just to see if I can do it. I'm excited to play those (different) schools. I still feel like I can do a decent job, and relate to the girls."
Things will certainly be different for LaPlante and her Tritons in the Big West, their first conference affiliation since winning seven consecutive California Collegiate Athletic Association titles before it stopped sponsoring tennis after the 2010 season.
"It's going to be a lot easier to schedule matches," explains LaPlante. "There are going to be so many schools for us to play, first of all, so I'm excited. The recruiting really has to change. I've automatically just in the last couple of years gotten a lot higher-level player interested. So that's definitely going to be a big challenge, is getting those girls now knowing that we are Division I."
Before that 2020 flip, however, LaPlante has an able squad again this year, ranked No. 29 and a winner of eight of its last 10 to not only solidify a second straight NCAA Division II Championship bid, but earn hosting rights for a preliminary-round tilt this Tuesday, May 14, against 23rd-ranked rival Azusa Pacific. Start time is 2 p.m. at Northview Tennis Courts on North Campus in La Jolla, with the winner advancing to Altamonte Springs, Fla., among the final 16 teams left standing for this 2019 season.
About UC San Diego Athletics
With 30 national team championships, nearly 150 individual titles and the top student-athlete graduation rate among Division II institutions in the United States, the UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program annually ranks as one of the most successful in the country. The Tritons sponsor 23 intercollegiate sport programs that compete on the NCAA Division I and II levels and, in summer 2020, will transition into full Division I status as a member of the Big West Conference. UC San Diego student-athletes exemplify the academic ideals of one of the world's preeminent institutions, graduating at an average rate of 91 percent. A total of 80 Tritons have earned Academic All-America honors, while 37 have earned prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships. In competition, more than 1,300 UC San Diego student-athletes have earned All-America honors.
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