FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Two years ago, the Northern Arizona women's tennis team graduated possibly the most accomplished senior year class the program has ever seen. The 2011 senior quartet of Orsi Golovics, Edit Suhajda, Yumi Hasegawa and Aimee Oki combined for 11 All-Big Sky selections, 164 singles wins, 170 doubles wins and 54 team victories over their four-year careers.
On Saturday, the Lumberjacks' home finale versus Weber State at 9 a.m. at Enchantment Resort in Sedona will serve as the final home matches for the 2013 senior class of Ghizelene Doballah, Alice Pacaut, Nicole Perez, Malia Wahinepio and Alice Walker. While this year's senior class might not be as decorated as their 2011 predecessors, they have definitely left their combined mark on the Lumberjack women's tennis program.
"They're an eclectic bunch and each player brings something different to the team," said director of tennis Kim Bruno. "Each player has a distinct role and distinct personality and it's going to be hard to replace this bunch. The last senior class I had two years ago left their mark on NAU with their records and things you can't take away and this class has done the same. We've had an outstanding record this year, we've went on streaks and we've done things that other classes have not and that's a great way for them to go out on top. It's been a fun ride. They're outstanding young women."
Among the highlights that this year's seniors have accomplished this year include the program's second-longest win streak of eight matches, the program's eighth-consecutive double-digit win season, the longest such streak in program history, and the program's most wins in a season (15) with at least two matches remaining including next week's Big Sky tournament since the 2008 team won 15 matches. NAU is 15-9 overall and 6-2 in the Big Sky headed into Saturday's match.
When Perez, Wahinepio and Walker entered the program as freshman during the 2009-10 season, the storied senior class were juniors. The trio spent their first two years under the guidance of their esteemed upperclassmen teammates as the team went on to achieve back-to-back 13-win seasons and Big Sky runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2011. It was during these first two years where they learned and grew into the players they are today.
"When we first came in I really looked up to the upperclassmen," Wahinepio said. "My sophomore year when they were seniors I really thought we were going to take it in conference with Orsi, Edit, Yumi and Aimee. We had a really strong team. Learning from them, we were able to take on the (leadership) responsibility now that they're gone."
"It's funny hearing the underclassmen saying that we're all leaving because it's like déjà vu," Walker added. "We went through exactly the same thing. I learned a lot especially from the Hungarians (Golovics and Suhajda). They had such high accolades and seeing them practice with the same consistency day in and day out was interesting. Aimee and Yumi had fun out there and they embraced what Lumberjack Athletics was about."
Last season, Bruno needed to replace the four departed starters and in stepped Doballah, who spent the 2011 season as a redshirt after transferring from Barton Community College, and Pacaut, who transferred to NAU after two seasons at Stephen F. Austin. Along with Perez, Wahinepio and Walker and the infusion of Hannah Stone and Johanna Vang, the team was able to move forward seamlessly in 2012 and has proven to be a force in the Big Sky in 2013.
Wahinepio and Perez, both in-state products, have been stalwarts in the Lumberjack lineup since their initial season as both will end their respective careers as four-year starters. Wahinepio, an All-Big Sky selection in each of her first three seasons, is one of just 13 players in program history with three all-conference awards. If she were to earn the distinction this season, she would become the sixth Lumberjack to be a four-time All-Big Sky honoree, a list which includes Bruno, Golovics and Suhajda.
Wahinepio has posted at least 11 singles victories in each of her four seasons, including 12 this season, and owns a career 25-7 record against Big Sky foes. Her 18 doubles wins this season are tied for the team-lead and is tops in the conference and together with Pacaut, the pair recently broke the school record for doubles wins in the team's victory over Southern Utah last Friday. Pacaut and Wahinepio's 17 wins as a duo broke the tie they shared with Oki and Stephanie Vallejos in 2008. Wahinepio goes into her final home match with 50 career singles and doubles victories, which is one singles win less than Golovics had in her career and more doubles wins than any of the four 2011 seniors.
"We grew as a team regardless of who came in and who left and I think we just built on one another," Wahinepio said. "Senior year is here and it scares me because it means that it's the end of our collegiate careers. It makes me more excited and having the success in doubles with Alice has been a thrill. I've enjoyed every second of it. I'm really happy to be playing with her. It was a fun experience all together."
Perez could not have started her career any better as she earned All-Big Sky honorable mention following a stellar freshman season in which she posted a 13-6 singles record and 14-5 doubles record. She followed that up with another solid sophomore season, but endured a rough junior campaign in which she struggled her way to four singles and five doubles victories. But she has responded with a career-best season this year as she leads the conference with a career-high 17 singles victories. She has had two win streaks of at least seven matches and she is currently riding a 10-match doubles win streak with Doballah.
"I definitely learned a lot," Perez said. "I'm sad that this is our last home match but I think it's time to move on. I definitely appreciate Coach (Bruno) giving us this opportunity and a lot of good times playing tennis for her at NAU. Ending on a strong note my senior year completely erases last year in my mind and hopefully in Coach's as well. I owe a lot of it to Coach."
Walker came over from Sydney, Australia and has been a steady reserve and someone the Lumberjacks can count on during the course of her four-year career. As a reliable No. 7 player, Walker has filled in admirably, totaling 11 career victories between singles and doubles play. Against opponents within the conference, Walker has shown her best compiling a 9-4 combined Big Sky record.
"I haven't really thought about it," Walker said. "I just want to make sure I leave it all out on the court and try not to get too frustrated. I just want to have fun knowing that it's my last match and focus on every point."
After the departure of the previous senior class, a lot of the team's success can be attributed to the additions of Doballah and Pacaut to the lineup.
Doballah stepped in immediately last season following her redshirt year and took over the No. 1 singles position in the lineup. She was rewarded with an All-Big Sky first team honor following a nine-win season, including a near-perfect 7-1 conference record. This season, Doballah has rotated between the top-two positions and once again sits at nine wins with a chance to win her career-high 10th match before her career comes to an end. The Oran, Algeria native is the only player on the team to earn Big Sky Player of the Week honors in each of the last two seasons.
"It was really surprising because I didn't expect the number one spot," Doballah said. "I got used to it pretty fast. It's going to be sad that I'm done with it. It passed by so fast and I can't believe it's already over. I'm really satisfied. It was a great experience and I wouldn't change anything."
Pacaut, like Doballah, has been a consistent force since she arrived last season. After two successful seasons at Stephen F. Austin, Pacaut has recorded 25 singles victories and 28 doubles victories over the last two years. The senior from Eyguieres, France has established herself as one of the conference's top No. 5 and 6 singles players since her arrival and this season Pacaut ranks only behind Perez in singles victories on the team with 14 and is tied with Wahinepio, her doubles partner, with 18 doubles victories in addition to the new school record.
"What I really liked since I came to NAU is the team," Pacaut said. "We're all really close and I didn't have that with my other team. I'm really happy that I transferred even though it was hard at the beginning. I'm really excited but I'm definitely really sad because I'm going to miss my team a lot."
The seniors and the entire Lumberjack team hopes that what has been one of the greatest seasons in program history will culminate in a Big Sky Championship next weekend, something the program has not achieved since 1999 and it the beginning of the end starts with their regular season finale against Weber State on Saturday. The Wildcats are 6-15 overall and 2-6 in the conference. NAU has beaten Weber State in the last seven meetings between the two teams, including five by a 7-0 score.
"This is the end of our regular season play and it's important that we step on the court and be ready to go," Bruno said. "Weber has progressively gotten better with their results throughout the season. We really have to play hard and honor our seniors and hopefully come together as a championship team this weekend. This is a tight knit team and I know they're going to play for each other and leave it on the court."
Saturday's match is free for all fans to attend at the Enchantment Resort in Sedona. Live scoring will be available for the match here.