Though the 2001-02 Bearcats lost four seniors from a team that posted the top Conference USA Tournament finish in school history, they had four of the top five performers returning from that squad and used that experience to post a fourth-straight winning season, the longest streak since the first four years of UCís program (1974-77).
Junior Khushchehr Italia stepped to the forefront in the season-opening tournament, the Doctors Vision Center Invitational, by winning three of four matches. UC also got a glimpse of strong play to come from its newcomers as Cristina Reyes won three matches and Julie Klauck and Samantha Liu teamed to win the flight B doubles title.
The bad news was that the already small squad had to face the fall season with only six players. Lyndsey Molony, who won 19 singles matches as a freshman, suffered a stress fracture in her leg.
In the lone dual match of the fall, the Bearcats topped crosstown rival Xavier, 5-2, to run their fall unbeaten streak to four years (10-0).
The rest of the fall season consisted of tournaments at Penn State and Louisville and the Conference USA Fall Individual Tournament at TCU. The Bearcats needed some players to step up and show they were ready to help lead the young squad. UC got that leadership from some expected and some unexpected sources.
Italia, Freshmen Shine
Italia played like the number one player Coach Carol Tanner was looking for, going 13-5 in the fall season. She won at least three singles matches at each of the tournaments, reaching the semifinals at Louisville. Italia also teamed with fellow junior Jen Capuzzi to reach the double semifinals at Penn State and Louisville
All three freshmen used the fall season to show they would be valuable members of the team.. Klauck went 11-3 in doubles in the fall, teaming with Liu to reach the flight B finals at Penn State and winning the flight C doubles at the C-USA tourney. She also tied for the team lead with 13 singles wins.
Liu went 12-2 in doubles play, 8-2 with Klauck and 4-0 with Reyes.
Reyes pushed hard to earn a spot in the top half of the UC lineup, playing in flight B during most of the fall and going 10-6. She closed the fall with a 4-1 performance at the C-USA tourney, winning the north draw and beating the No. 1 seed to get there.
The Bearcats began the spring dual season against three ranked teams in the first four matches. No. 23 Kentucky and No. 39 Indiana swept UC, 7-0, on consecutive days. The bright spot was Molonyís return, as she played No. 3 doubles with Liu against Kentucky and they came away with UCís only win of the weekend.
UC then lost a close match to conference foe DePaul and fell to No. 61 Illinois State. Molony returned to singles play and Reyes was moved to the top of the lineup. The Bearcats responded by winning five of their next six matches, including home wins against Toledo and Bowling Green.
Molony Keys Comeback
UC now faced three-straight ranked opponents and the results showed it. The Bearcats sandwiched shutouts by No. 38 Ohio State and No. 75 Marshall around a 6-1 loss to No. 75 Eastern Michigan. UC struggled to recover and dropped its next three, two by 4-3 margins.
Once again it was Molony to the rescue as her three-set win led the Bearcats to a 4-3 win over Memphis that got UC rolling. Wins over Louisville, Wright State and Valparaiso followed to close the regular season.
UC entered the Conference USA Tournament as the No. 8 seed and opened against ninth-seeded Memphis, winning 4-1 on the strength of wins by Molony, Leen Corneillie and Liu at the bottom three singles positions. Next was the top-seeded, 27th-ranked host, TCU. The Horned Frogs knocked UC into the consolation bracket with a 4-0 win.
The Bearcats responded with a dominating effort against 11th-seeded Saint Louis, winning 4-0. Next was fourth-seeded Houston and UC closed its season with a 4-2 win. Molony and Corneillie again keyed the win.
The 3-1 performance at the C-USA Tournament placed UC in a tie for fifth place, its highest finish ever, and by winning seven of its last eight matches, the Bearcats claimed their fourth straight winning season.
Julie Klauck became the third Bearcat freshman to reach 20 singles wins with her 20-14 record.
Khushchehr Italia's 27 singles wins were tied for the second-highest single-season total in UC history and made her the third Bearcat to win 20 matches in multiple seasons.
The Bearcats had three players rank on the single-season doubles wins chart, led by freshmen Klauck and Samantha Liu, who went 14-6 as a duo. Liu won 24 total doubles matches to tie for the second-most all-time and Klauck won 20 to rank tied for seventh. Jen Capuzzi won 21 to tie for fourth all-time and raise her career total to 47, eighth-best all-time at UC.
Italia's 45 combined wins equalled the fourth highest season total at UC and Capuzzi raised her career total to 103 combined wins, eighth in Bearcat history.
As UC won seven of its last eight dual matches, a number of Bearcats closed the season on hot streaks. Italia won seven of her last 10 matches, Leen Corneillie won her last eight and Lyndsey Molony won her last seven.