The dream scenario of any college athlete is to end their career with four consecutive conference championships.
That is the very goal senior Claire Yang hopes to accomplish when she steps onto the tennis court this spring. Yang already has three conference titles under her belt, and will seek a fourth when the Vandals open Big Sky play on the road Saturday against Portland State.
As a young girl in Taiwan, Yang was first introduced to the sport while attending elementary school. She said the co-recreational environment allowed her to sharpen her abilities as she played against both male and female competitors.
“It’s not like here where the two (genders) are separated,” Yang said. “Guys tend to be at a higher level — they hit the ball a bit stronger and have better conditioning — so when we compete with them we improve ourselves better.”
Yang quickly excelled in her home country, claiming the National High School Athletics Group Game championship in 2012. Afterward, she turned her attention toward a collegiate career.
“I posted a video on YouTube, and contacted some schools,” she said. “It came down to Wazzu and Fresno State.”
After taking a recruiting trip to the West Coast, Yang decided to enroll at Fresno State. She was a member of a Bulldogs squad that posted a perfect 5-0 conference record on its way to the 2014 Mountain West title.
As the team’s only freshman, Yang earned the Bulldog Spirit Award for supporting and encouraging her teammates.
“That Mountain West championship was kind of shocking, because I never had that kind of experience before,” she said.
Despite the accolades, Yang said she felt like she was not getting enough time on the court. She said she decided to transfer to the University of Idaho because of its academic reputation and rising tennis program.
“I was looking at several schools in the conference,” Yang said. “I heard my friends talk about a team environment, which is why I chose to go here.”
The camaraderie of the program proved to be a major factor in Idaho’s run to the Big Sky title in 2015. Yang played eight matches during her sophomore season, posting singles victories in matches against Lewis-Clark State and North Dakota.
“As a team we work and compete really hard in practice with Coach (Mariana) Cobra,” Yang said. “She is intense in a sense, but we have a lot of team environment. We study together on and off the court, and we have a lot of bonding.”
Yang’s breakout year came in 2016, when she went 10-6 in singles play as a junior to lead the Vandals to another conference championship and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament against Pepperdine.
“I think the biggest thing for how we win is that we all have the same goal,” Yang said. “We set our goals together and then we encourage each other. We never have problems between teammates because we get along really well.”
Despite the possibility of achieving a historic milestone, Yang said she is focused on helping her team establish a strong connection with one another.
“I’m going to be really proud to have been a Vandal,” she said. “But winning another (championship) would be really cool, I don’t think many people are able to say they’ve done that.”
Josh Grissom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GoshJrissom