With a new coach at the helm, the Idaho women’s tennis team is set to begin the spring season Thursday against border rival Washington State.
In the fall season, interim coach Mariana Cobra led the Vandals after former Idaho Director of Tennis Jeff Beaman resigned last July. On November 3, Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear announced Cobra’s interim tag was being stripped and that she would be the new head coach at Idaho.
Cobra isn’t new to being in charge of a program as she was the coach at Northern Iowa for the 2012-2013 season. She also has been an assistant at Case Western Reserve and Middle Tennessee State.
A new coach isn’t the only new thing for this team though, as it also begins Big Sky play in its first year back in the conference. The preseason Big Sky Coaches Poll ranked Idaho as the third best team in the conference behind Sacramento State and Montana. The move back to the Big Sky puts Idaho in the same conference as many teams it saw during the fall season and renews many regional rivalries.
“The Big Sky is a strong conference in women’s tennis,” Idaho coach Mariana Cobra said. “Sacramento State has won the championship the last 13 years. I am happy with our third-place positioning.”
Perhaps the biggest story this season will be the play of sophomore Galina Bykova, who is entering the season ranked No. 9 in the mountain region by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association women’s rankings. Bykova, who came to Moscow from St. Petersburg, Russia, won WAC Freshman of the Year her first year with the Vandals, as well as All-WAC singles and second-team All-WAC doubles.
This past fall she defeated two ranked opponents — Natasha Smith of New Mexico and Denver’s Maureen Slattery — in the ITA Regional Championships. All of her accomplishments now put her as the No. 9 player in the ITA Mountain Region, and Bykova will be expected to lead Idaho this spring.
“Galina has worked really hard over the fall,” Cobra said. “Her efforts are recognized in these first rankings. She really deserves the recognition and I am very proud of her. I am excited to see her compete this spring.”
The Vandal roster also features some veteran leadership with four upperclassman — seniors Emmie Marx, Sophie Vickers, Beatriz Flores and junior Rita Bermudez.
Vickers enters her third spring for Idaho and continuously put up good numbers in the fall. She was a second-team all-WAC selection in doubles in 2013, and in her final year for Idaho will try to earn a spot on an all-Big Sky list.
Marx, a senior from Mossel Bay, South Africa, transferred to Idaho from Illinois State and got her first experience in a Vandal uniform this past fall. In her one year at Illinois State, Marx was named to the Missouri Valley Conference 2012 All-Select Team.
Freshman Lucia Badillos and sophomore Claire Yang, a transfer from Fresno State, are also expected to contribute this season.
After the fall season opener at Washington State on Thursday, Idaho will host Eastern Washington Jan. 31, though it will not count as a conference game. The match against WSU was still underway during press time.
After a quick trip to Seattle to take on former WAC-foe Seattle U Feb. 7, Idaho will play its first official Big Sky game against Sacramento State Feb. 13 in Cheney, Washington. For the rest of the schedule, Idaho plays all Big Sky schools as well as traveling to Gonzaga, Utah State, Cal Poly, Fresno State and Oregon. The Vandals will also host Arizona in nonconference play.
Ben Evensen can be reached at email@example.com