The following article on the youthful success of the Army women's tennis team was written by Eric Bartelt and appeared in the Pointer View on April 4, 2008.
The declaration, “Youth is served,” is a major understatement when directed at the Army women’s tennis team for the 2007-08 season.
It seemed like the three-time defending Patriot League Tournament champions would hit a wall this year because an injury and administrative issues have hit two of the team’s best players in juniors Brooke Jones and Niki Flach, respectively, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case.
The team has been invigorated with a shot of freshmen talent that may eclipse any class that has ever played women’s tennis at West Point.
Army is currently 17-6 in dual matches in 2007-08 with a win in their first league match in the spring, which is remarkable, considering that 12 of the 21 players on the team are freshmen and have been asked to carry much of the load.
Thus far, the freshmen have been 72-24 in singles matches -- winning at a 75 percent clip and have contributed 72 of the team’s 90 wins, which is 80 percent of the team’s singles victories.
Heading the cast of plebes is freshman sensation Anne Houghton, who is 12-5 this spring and the current singles number one player.
She became number one because Jones and Flach, who was the 2007 Patriot League “Player of the Year,” were out of the picture for some time; however, even with Flach’s return to the team, Houghton has taken full control as the top player on the squad.
“Coming in I knew (Houghton) had a lot of talent,” said Army women’s head tennis coach Paul Peck. “Typically, I don’t like to start freshmen at number one because I think that’s a lot of pressure especially at West Point because they are already going through all the other adjustments.
“She became number one by default (due to circumstance),” he added. “It was rough at first, but I knew her talent would take over and it was quicker than I thought. To her credit, she was put in a situation where she had to play number one and she rose to the challenge -- she stepped into the role and has been kicking butt.”
Houghton came to West Point as a top 50 under-18 player in the nation and a highly sought after recruit with quality schools such as Cornell, Dartmouth and some Big Ten teams seeking her talents. However, the lefthander from Sewickley, Pa., chose the academy over other schools due to her best friends -- her older siblings.
“They influenced me because I’m best friends with my brothers (John and Rick) and my sister (Kate), we were inseparable growing up and I looked up to them,” Houghton explained. “We all had our own options, but we all ended up here because the academy is such a great place.
“I couldn’t have honestly asked for a better situation because if I was upset I had my sister or brothers to talk to,” she added. “They understand me because they’ve gone through this process, so if I’m upset about something military-wise or tennis-related, I’m basically preaching to the choir because they know exactly how I feel and it’s nice to have them around.”
Rick is a junior on the men’s tennis team while the oldest siblings, John and Kate, were athletic interns with the tennis teams this fall after graduating last spring. In previous interviews with John and Kate, despite their own immense talents, they always touted their sister as being the most talented in the family.
“She’s a great athlete, who has great eye-hand coordination and she’s only getting better,” said Peck, who called her a great counter-puncher, which is someone who can take the opponents best shots and put them on the defensive. “The nice thing is there is a lot more we can do to make her a better player.”
Besides Houghton, freshmen Jessica Ahn (8-4), Caitlin Finnegan (9-5), Patricia Vollmer (8-2), Jurelle Mendoza (7-1) and Michael Tollerton (7-0) are just a few of the plebe classmates who have effectively made strides in their first year in the lineup.
“This was the largest recruiting class I ever brought in ... typically, you’re going to lose about 20 percent (through attrition) -- it’s just the way it is around here, but they have all hung in there,” Peck remarked. “They’ve all done well, they have a good attitude, they’re hard working and they’re enjoying what they are doing. They enjoy being a part of the team and it’s reflected in their play -- they are a very talented group.”
How much of a talented group is this team? Well, Peck has coached Army since 1995 and the women have won the Patriot League Tournament under his guidance seven times, including two different three-year runs including the last three years. The team that started the latest run, the 2005 team, finished with a 23-5 record, which is the best in Army women’s tennis history and coach feels this year’s team has a chance to be that good if not better.
“I see this as being one of our best teams,” Peck said. “We’re as good as that (2005) team with our depth and as long as no one gets hurt or in trouble we should get everybody back next year.
“I would like to ride the wave as long as I can,” he continued. “This is a good first step for this young group with the juniors also playing well as they are a significant part of our lineup. Next year, we could have our best year ever with everyone healthy. But, right now, it’s one match at a time and I want to stay grounded and focused on (the matches ahead).”
Senior team co-captain Christine Limsiaco agrees with coach that this can be the best team yet. She was a freshman on that 2005 team that was ironically led by her sister, Marissa, who was captain of that 23-5 squad.
For Limsiaco, who is primarily a doubles player on this year’s team with number two/three doubles partner junior Bridie Burke and has combined for an 11-3 spring record, and fellow co-captain Diana Alquero, it’s important to them to make team history this year by making the NCAA Tournament again.
“Being able to lead a team that has a chance to win the Patriots four straight years would be a great feeling,” Limsiaco said. “Having a winning record has helped build our confidence (with a young team), but I think the next big step for us would be reaching the NCAAs and winning there would be the next big feat.”
The future Quartermaster officer from The Woodlands, Texas, has probably one of the most important jobs on the team with Alquero, and that’s to keep the freshmen in line.
“For the upperclassmen, it’s trying to lead by example on the court,” Limsiaco said. “When they see us on the court, we try to keep our composure and have a good attitude. Some of them may have come out of junior tennis with some serious attitudes flying around, but there’s an adjustment period for them.
“They definitely have years to grow,” she added. “But, so far so good, and they have done really well.”
Peck has commended the way his co-captains have handled the responsibilities of taking care of a large team of 21 athletes and. although he had some reservations at first, he is happy with his decision to have two captains.
“They have done an outstanding job. The co-captains have complemented each other well,” Peck said. “I have never had co-captains before, but with the size of the team I felt it would be a lot of work for one person. I was a little nervous with how it would all work out, but they’ve done a very good job in leading this team and I’m happy.”