Women’s tennis conquers Big East Championship

For the Miami Hurricanes’ women’s tennis team, this past season represented what the squad can do when all of its key members are healthy.

The Hurricanes rebounded from an inconsistent 2000-2001 campaign to record a 14-7 record, advancing to the Second Round of the NCAA Regionals – where they fell to top-ranked Florida. Miami profited from the emergence of sophomore Mari Toro, a transfer from FIU, who spent much of the year playing No. 1 singles. Fellow freshmen Staci Stevens and Ewelina Skaza contributed heavily as well, while veterans Marcy Hora and Sara Robbins were able to give the ‘Canes a full season.

The highlight of the year came in April when Miami won the Big East championship in a 4-1 upset over Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish had defeated the Hurricanes, 4-3, in South Bend two weeks earlier.

The ‘Canes dropped the doubles point, one of the few things Miami had struggled with throughout the season. Miami, however, rallied back to take four straight singles points, which won them the match and the championship.

“It is always good to win,” Toro said. “It feels great, we have worked so hard for this, and we are happy that we were able to do it.”

The women started out on the right track in the tournament by beating Virginia Tech 4-0 in the second round. The ‘Canes simply dominated the Hokies and set the tone for the rest of the weekend. The win gave them the momentum to come out the next day and take it to Notre Dame.

“I was a little upset after the doubles loss,” head coach Page Yaroshuk said. “I thought our girls played amazing doubles and we just came up a little short. It’s not easy coming out being down 1-0 in the Big East, but it is something we have done all year. We weren’t shocked.”

The victory over the Fighting Irish marked the seventh time Miami has captured the Big East crown since 1992. For Yaroshuk, beating a top-notch team like Notre Dame was extra sweet.

“I have been telling people all year I have the best girls in the country, and it is nice to see them come out today and just shine,” Yaroshuk said. “It’s nice, especially when you have a team like Notre Dame in your conference. It’s a great feeling, we have definitely accomplished something.”

The Big East Championship followed a regular season in which Miami recorded wins against ranked programs like South Alabama and Mississippi State, as well as rival Florida State. Toro finished the season ranked 62nd in the country, while Hora and Stevens were constant winners as the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, respectively.

The Hurricanes’ 14-7 campaign translated into a couple of individual awards. Toro won the MVP of the tournament, and although the sophomore didn’t think she deserved it over Hora, Yaroshuk thought otherwise.

“Mari Toro deserves it,” Yaroshuk said. “This girl works harder than anyone I have ever seen. She was out here at 6:45 a.m. hitting balls because her backhand didn’t feel right. If anyone deserves player of the year, Toro does.”

Meanwhile, in her first season at the helm Yaroshuk took home Big East Coach of the Year honors.

“Coach of the Year is nice, but to be honest, I didn’t know I was going to get it,” Yaroshuk said. “It’s nicer to win Coach of the Year over a guy like Jay Louderback (ND) because he is a class act and he has been around a while and he is a great coach.”

It’s too early to set expectations for this upcoming season, but with Hora the only key player leaving, Miami should contend for another Big East crown. The Hurricanes will need to keep players like Toro and Stevens healthy, but if that is accomplished, and Yaroshuk gets help from additional newcomers, then the sky will be the limit for Miami.