Bearcat Women's Tennis Team Looks for Continued Success in 2011

Agarycheva Returns after Competing at NCAA Championship in Singles

By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- Willamette University had an outstanding women's tennis season in the spring of 2010. The Bearcats achieved a 12-9 dual match record, went 10-6 in the Northwest Conference to take fourth place, and advanced to the NWC Tournament.

In addition, the Bearcats sent a player to the NCAA Division III Singles Championship for the first time in program history. That player, Natalia Agarycheva (Vancouver, WA/Prairie HS/U. of Northern Colorado), who is now a senior, finished the season ranked #5 in the West Region and #37 in the nation.

"Last year was probably the most successful year we've had since I came to Willamette," said Head Coach Becky Roberts, who is in her 11th season leading the Bearcats.

After achieving many accomplishments last spring, Roberts and her team are seeking even greater success in 2011. With a returning player who has national tournament experience, several other players back from the starting lineup and a trio of quality freshmen, the Bearcats appear to have the talent and abilities to attain many of their goals.

The Bearcats open the season on Saturday, Feb. 12 with an NWC match against the University of Puget Sound. Match time is set for 12:15 p.m. at the Courthouse Tennis Club (1379 Madison St NE) in Salem, Ore.

At the top of the lineup is Agarycheva, who concluded last spring with a 20-4 overall singles record and a #5 ranking in the West Region. She was chosen First Team All-NWC and was selected as the NWC Player of the Year. She returns for her second season as the Bearcats' #1 singles player.

"She's tall, she plays very aggressively and she can drive the ball from corner to corner," Roberts said regarding Agarycheva. "She's very competitive, she's go great sportsmanship and her drive is to win and compete ... to return to the national tournament in singles.

In addition to her tremendous season in singles, Agarycheva was successful in doubles in 2010. She went 12-7 overall, including 10-5 when competing with #1 doubles partner Shannon Palmer (Salem, OR/Sprague HS). Agarycheva and Palmer earned a #7 ranking in the West Region in doubles.

This past fall, Agarycheva own the USTA/ITA Small College Northwest Regional title in singles. She also combined with Fabi Dieguez (Jr., Salem, OR/Sprague HS/Oregon State Univ.) to reach the semifinals of the Northwest Regional in doubles.

Palmer, who missed the fall season while studying abroad in Japan, is a junior this spring. She will play primarily #2 singles as well as #1 doubles this season.

"Shannon had a great time at a little town south of Tokyo, and her minor is in Japanese Studies," Roberts said about Palmer's experience studying abroad. "She and Natalia will be a force to reckon with on the doubles court."

Sophomore Katie Huber (St. Peter, MN/St. Peter HS) will likely play #3 singles for the Bearcats. As a freshman, she competed in 16 of the team's 21 matches.

Dieguez also gives Willamette a returning player at the #4 singles position. Dieguez was 9-11 overall in singles during the 2010 spring season, including 8-8 in NWC regular season matches.

One of this year's freshmen, Sabrina Gutierrez (Newbury Park, CA/Newbury Park HS), is the top contender to compete at #5 singles. Gutierrez previously played tennis at Newbury Park High School in California.

A trio of athletes will work for playing time at the #6 singles position. They are Jamie Slonaker (Sr., Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS), Emily Bee (Jr., Portland, OR/Lincoln HS) and Emily Funabiki (Fr., Pullman, WA/Pullman HS).

Slonaker achieved a 12-5 record in singles last spring. Her win in three sets at #6 singles gave Willamette the final point in a 5-4 victory over Lewis & Clark College in NWC action on Feb. 28, 2010.

Bee saw limited competition in singles a year ago, but earned a 6-0 record in doubles. Funabiki is the sister of former WU tennis player Abby Funabiki, who completed her senior season in 2008-09.

Willamette and the other eight teams in the NWC will each play one full round-robin during the season, plus a second match against four conference teams. As a result, the Bearcats will play 12 NWC matches.

The top four teams in the NWC's final regular season standings will advance into the an automatic qualifying tournament. The winner of the NWC Tournament will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

Natalia Agarycheva achieved a 20-4 singles record and competed at the NCAA Championship last season.

Natalia Agarycheva achieved a 20-4 singles record and competed at the NCAA Championship last season.