Liz LaPlante, in her 31st season at the helm of the UC San Diego women's tennis team, has instilled expectations of success in the Tritons since day one. In the 21 years at Division III, she became the most successful coach at that level. LaPlante's teams qualified for the National Championships a total of 19 times, winning four national titles and finishing second on five other occasions. Now at the Division II level, UCSD has won six straight California Collegiate Athletic Association Championships and, up until a loss last week, had reeled off 65 consecutive conference victories. With a heightened level of play in the league, the Tritons' road to another CCAA crown is not yet complete. UCSD, ranked 15th nationally, will need a win Saturday in an 11:00 a.m. home match against No. 19 Cal State Stanislaus to get there. LaPlante took a few minutes to discuss Saturday's meeting with the Warriors, the leaders on the Tritons' squad and how she got hooked on the sport of tennis.
Q: No. 15 UC San Diego faces No. 19 Cal State Stanislaus this Saturday. A large crowd is expected and the match certainly looks to have playoff implications. How do you expect your team to handle the heightened pressure?
LAPLANTE: Hopefully the team is not feeling any extra pressure, just excitement for the match. We have had a few important matches like that this year and the team has always played with confidence and focus, so hopefully the extra fans will get them pumped up and create a great atmosphere.
Q: As the regular season winds down, the Tritons are recognizing the achievements of the team's two seniors, Anita Athavale and Pooja Desai, and a junior that is graduating early, Valerie Tang. From a coaching standpoint, can you talk a little bit about your experience teaching those three players?
LAPLANTE: Pooja had a great freshman year, but since then has had a lot of health issues and injuries that have kept her out of the lineup. Nevertheless, she has continued to practice and has been a lot of fun to have on the team all four years. We kept hoping she would get back in the lineup, but every time she was close, something else would happen.
Anita has been with us two years since she transferred from UC Davis. She was a huge asset to the team, especially with her doubles skills and she has improved her singles game tremendously.
Valerie was voted team captain and has been a great team leader because of her maturity and self discipline. Val has improved so much the last three years, especially her doubles skills, and she and her partner Cindy Dao continue to play better every match.
Q: From watching Taskeen Bains play, fans are quick to recognize her work ethic and drive to succeed. How important is it for a team to have those characteristics at the top of the singles ladder?
LAPLANTE: Considering Taskeen was playing in the No. 6 and No. 7 positions her freshman year, it means a lot for the girls to know how hard she has worked to improve her game. She sets a great example with her work ethic, desire to win and passion for the game. She also is a team leader and tries to motivate her teammates to work hard and push themselves during practice. It's always so important for a team to have motivators on the team. The coaches can only do so much and Taskeen has really made a difference this year taking on that role.
Q: With sophomore Samantha Yeung leading the team in wins with 12 and freshmen Jacquelyn Davis and Melissa Breisacher combining to go 9-0 so far in singles this season, how excited are you about the future of UCSD women's tennis?
LAPLANTE: I am very excited about the future for these young women. Samantha didn't get much playing time last year, and obviously after just one year, she has improved so much. Both Jacquelyn and Melissa are great athletes and have the skills to be major contributors in the lineup next season. After one year of balancing school and athletics, the second year seems so much easier and they know what is expected of them from the team.
Q: Now that the conference winning streak of 65 matches has been snapped, obviously there has to be some disappointment. Nonetheless, the sheer magnitude of the number 65 has to amaze even you. Can you reflect on the excitement surrounding that stretch of victories and what it meant to lead the program to a streak like that?
LAPLANTE: To be totally honest I tried not to pay much attention to the streak and never discussed it with the team. Even though I realize it was a great accomplishment, the streak and winning the conference was not as important as getting to the NCAA regionals and trying to get to Nationals. And for some reason a few weeks ago I actually realized how many we'd won and did start thinking about it, so I think I jinxed the whole thing and that's why we lost!
Q: Your assistant coach, Timmer Willing, has been with the program nine years now. Can you talk about his role and what the consistency of that position has meant to the team?
LAPLANTE: To quote our men's head coach Eric Steidlmayer, "Timmer is a gem." I know most guys wouldn't usually say that about another guy, but Timmer is such a rare find that no other word can describe him. He is so easy to work with, so smart and really knows the game. He is very strict and firm with the players, but he also keeps things fun. He has made a tremendous impact on the team and we couldn't do it without him.
Q: As a kid, when was the first time you picked up a racquet to play? What was the sports atmosphere like in your family growing up?
LAPLANTE: My dad, who was a huge sports nut, put a racquet in my hand at age four and I started playing tournaments when I was 10. I have a sister two years younger and we belonged to Mission Valley Tennis Club in San Diego, where we would spend just about every day after school and all summer with tons of other kids, playing tennis, swimming and hanging out. We made lifelong friends there whom I still see to this day.
Q: In the 2010 regular season finale, the Tritons will take on crosstown rival San Diego State. As an Aztecs' graduate, what will it mean to challenge your alma mater?
LAPLANTE: I'm good friends with coach Peter Mattera, who 34 years ago was actually my team's conditioning coach. He was also a classmate of mine when I played there, so I'm really looking forward to the match. We hope to give each other good competition as both teams are preparing for the end of the season.
Q: If you could be an honorary coach for one game at another UCSD sport, which one would you choose?
LAPLANTE: That's a tough one since I have such respect for all the coaches on our staff, but I guess I would choose fencing since I know absolutely nothing about it and always been curious what that sport was about.
Q: Who would win in a dance competition, you or men's tennis coach Eric Steidlmayer?
LAPLANTE: That's just too funny to even think about!!
Previous Q & A Articles
Kirby St. John (Baseball) March 24, 2010
Perdew (Men's Swimming) February 28, 2010
Ross (Men's Volleyball) February 20, 2010
Nicole Saari (Softball) February 4, 2010
Brad Kreutzkamp (Women's Water Polo Head Coach) January 18, 2010
Tyler Acevedo (Men's Basketball) January 4, 2010
Dr. Cliff Kubiak (UCSD's Faculty Athletic Rep) December 18, 2009
Chelsea Carlisle (Women's Basketball) December 9, 2009
Carianne Cunningham (Women's Swimming) November 23, 2009
Elena Inouye (Cross Country) November 6, 2009
David Morton (Men's Water Polo) October 28, 2009
Juan Pablo Carillo (Men's Swimming) October 19, 2009
Sara Spaventa (Women's Soccer) October 10, 2009
Karen Reis (Women's Volleyball) October 2, 2009
Daniel Pavitt (Men's Soccer) September 23, 2009
Daniel Anderson (Cross Country) September 11, 2009
Peter Gresham (Men's Water Polo) September 2, 2009
Alexia Zatarain (Women's Soccer) August 24, 2009
Elaine Chen (Women's Volleyball) August 12, 2009
Jared Kukura (Men's Soccer) July 30, 2009
Dawn Lee (Former Women's Soccer Standout) July 8, 2009
Rob Mamula (Director of Athletic Performance) June 18, 2009
Garrett Imeson (Baseball) June 8, 2009
Leon Baham (Men's Track & Field) May 21, 2009
Kristyn Lesovsky (Softball) May 8, 2009
Kazumi Negishi (Men's Tennis) May 5, 2009
Laiah Blue (Women's Track & Field) April 16, 2009
Ryan Andre (Men's Crew) April 2, 2009
Josh Tanner (Baseball) March 24, 2009
Anju Shimura (Women's Swimming) March 7, 2009
Stephanie Bocian (Women's Water Polo) February 20, 2009
Lauren Chastain (Softball) February 5, 2009
A.J. Maulhardt (Men's Basketball) January 28, 2009
Annette Ilg (Women's Basketball) January 22, 2009
Steven Hardy (Men's Swimming) January 13, 2009
Frank Fritsch (Men's Volleyball) January 5, 2009