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Nebraska’s Scott Jacobson and Hayden Perez make a productive tandem as tennis coaches just like Husker seniors Mary Weatherholt and Patricia Veresova combine to make one of the best doubles teams in NCAA women’s tennis. The coaches’ shared vision and the competitive commitment of Nebraska’s top two players are fundamental keys for the No. 15-seeded Huskers to make history this weekend in Lincoln. Jacobson and Perez are in lockstep agreement on the mental and physical requirements to defeat Wichita State in Friday’s first-round match. If the Huskers win that, they will play the winner of Friday’s Tulsa-UNLV match to go where Nebraska women’s tennis has never gone before – to the NCAA Sweet 16.
Jacobson is a Minnesota native in year No. 22 as Nebraska’s head tennis coach. Perez, who claims Texas as his roots, is in his eighth year as the Huskers’ associate head coach. The two bring different leadership elements to a diverse group of student-athletes, who are determined to carve their niche in Nebraska athletic history. Jacobson is all about cooperation, compassion and the ability to handle adversity with courage. Perez always links life on the court to life in the classroom, and that’s why he’s so successful as an international recruiter. Perez, who played at Cameron (Okla.) University and coached at Florida State, is a walking billboard for enthusiasm, positive energy and leadership.
The Jacobson/Perez joint leadership team blends, complements and enables the Weatherholt/Veresova team’s rise to a No. 3 ITA national doubles ranking entering this weekend’s 64-team NCAA field. Anyone who can’t see the connection between academic rigor and competitive fire might be interested in a fact that both coaches believe relates to their energy on the court. Weatherholt, a Prairie Village, Kan., native, was named the 2013 Nebraska Student-Athlete of the Year. She graduated a year ago with a 3.873 GPA in Business Administration and has focused this past year on her master’s degree. Veresova has a 3.847 GPA in Business Administration and is on track to graduate in December.
Weatherholt Has No. 11 National Ranking in Singles
Weatherholt has won back-to-back Big Ten Conference Tennis Player of the Year honors. After peaking at a No. 6 national ranking – the highest individual ranking in Nebraska history – Weatherholt will take a No. 11 ITA singles ranking and a 23-1 individual record into the NCAA first-round and second-round matches. With six wins against ranked opponents and an overall 19-2 record, Weatherholt and Veresova qualify as a legitimate contender to win an NCAA National Championship.
Weatherholt is the Big Ten’s automatic singles qualifier and will be among 64 players to compete in singles play. She also joins Veresova as the conference’s automatic doubles qualifier with the No. 3 seed in the 32-pair competition. The NCAA Championships are set for May 22-27 in Urbana, Ill. – a competition that will follow the team portion of the tournament that runs from May 16-21.
But let’s get real here. Jacobson and Perez, like John Wooden and Tom Osborne, never mention the word “win” during their team’s daily workouts, monthly grinds or even throughout this unusually outdoor weather-ravaged season. “It reflects the senior leadership we’ve had all season long,” said Jacobson, who includes Janine Weinreich and Stefanie Weinstein in that senior leadership category with Weatherholt and Veresova. Both have been competitive in singles and rock-solid as the Huskers No. 2 doubles team. The two natives of Germany went 25-1 together and 11-0 in Big Ten doubles. Their coaches can't help but point to their combined academic and athletic success. Weinreich has a 3.76 GPA as an International Business Management and Marketing Major. Weinstein has a 3.92 GPA in Business Administration. Is there any wonder why the tennis team won the Herman Award in both 2012 and 2013 for having the highest team GPA among all Husker women’s sports programs?
Nebraska Reinforcing Its International Recruiting Ties
Nebraska’s depth cannot be confused with the loaded lineups from such perennial women’s tennis powers as Florida, Stanford, Georgia and North Carolina. Still, Nebraska’s ability to tap into the international recruiting pipeline has been steady and could be poised to blossom even more. When the Huskers beat Notre Dame, Tennessee and Georgia Tech early in the season, Jacobson remembers coaches from an SEC power and another school with ACC clout asking him directly what Nebraska was doing to emerge in a sport dominated by schools in warmer climates. He also remembers getting emails from at least four different countries recommending potential recruits. Less than a week ago, Jacobson and Perez received a signed National Letter of Intent from Varberg, Sweden native Lisa Andersson,who ranks No. 7 nationally in her age group. That signature will bring Andersson to the top of Nebraska’s tennis roster, which currently has seven of its eight team members having last names that start with V, W or Z.
We should point out, however, that the Huskers will continue to recruit aggressively within its own region. Weatherholt is, after all, the lead catalyst in Nebraska’s tennis renaissance, and she recruited Nebraska just as much as the Huskers recruited her. After taking an unofficial visit to Nebraska during her junior year of high school, Weatherholt targeted Lincoln as the place she most wanted to play before she was 16 years old. When her parents discovered that their already under-aged daughter wanted to graduate from high school a semester early to kick-start her college career, they assumed she not only would have to walk on, but take a redshirt first year so she would not threaten the position of any incumbent players. Their daughter, however, seized an immediate opportunity. She finished 20-2 that spring, was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year and earned a spot on the All-Big 12 Singles Team.
Astute Nebraska fans know the rest of the story. Weatherholt has led Nebraska to unprecedented heights both in the Big Ten and in the NCAA. The Huskers have reached the NCAA second round twice, but lost to Northwestern in 2010 and then to Texas in 2012. This year, Nebraska is a definitive favorite to advance into the Sweet 16 and play the winner of a regional that includes Tennessee, Virginia Commonwealth, South Carolina and North Carolina, the No. 2 overall seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Friday: First NCAA Tennis Match in Lincoln History
This weekend will be historic because it marks the first time Nebraska will host an NCAA Tennis Tournament. Friday’s first-round match against Wichita State will begin at 2 p.m. at the campus courts at 17th and Vine Streets. Saturday’s second-round match is also scheduled for 2 p.m. If weather threatens outdoor play, the NCAA Tournament will relocate to the Nebraska Tennis Center on 70th Street, a mile north of Cornhusker Highway.
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