When Todd Petty officially took over the Texas Tech women’s tennis program in 2009, he knew exactly the kind of players he wanted to bring to Lubbock.
While every coach can covet the prized recruits who will be courted by top teams across the nation, Petty wanted the kind of player that could embody what it would take to put Tech women’s tennis on the map.
He wanted players who were willing to work, get their hands dirty and build something.
“It was really important to bring a blue-collar type kid who was willing to take a chance, that wanted to be a part of something for the first time,” said Petty, who took over the program on an interim basis before the 2009 season before getting the full title a few months later.
It would be safe to say that he found a few players willing to work.
Tech’s senior class — consisting of Caroline Starck, Sandra Dynka and Liz Ullathorne — will leave the Hub City with a pair of Big 12 Conference titles, two NCAA regional appearances and the bragging right of winningest class in school history.
The Lady Raiders have a chance to do even more this weekend when they take on College of Charleston on Saturday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA Championships at McLeod Tennis Center.
But Starck, Dynka and Ullathorne aren’t the type to pop their collars and brag about all they’ve accomplished. They are the lead-by-example, show that you’ve been there before, blue-collar athletes that Petty wanted.
Starck, who was Petty’s first commitment, bought in right away with Petty’s approach.
“He was just so, so passionate about the program and where he wanted to take it,” said Starck, who was courted to Tech when, by chance, Petty saw her play at a tournament in Waco during her junior year in high school. “And he was very secure and sure about the way he wanted to get there, with recruiting girls who just purely liked to work hard.”
Like her fellow seniors, Dynka, an Ontario, Canada, native, was largely swayed to come to Tech by the coaching staff, not by flashy program tradition.
“We weren’t even in the top 75 when the three of us signed,” Dynka said.
Ullathorne, who hails from England, didn’t know too much about the intricacies of American college tennis — such as the varying strengths of conferences — so that first season was an eye-opener for her.
Looking back, it’s hard for Ullathorne to have imagined an eventual Big 12 title after that first year.
“It was kind of crazy how we did it,” said the senior, who chose Tech over offers from higher ranked schools, largely because of the coaching staff and her future teammates.
Petty’s assessment about having to work hard appeared to be dead on.
Although Starck said she and her teammates bought in right away, the quality of tennis at the other Big 12 programs was a step above Tech’s. The Lady Raiders had never finished above fifth in the Big 12 before Petty arrived, finishing tied for seventh in Petty’s first season, and tied for sixth during his second campaign.
“We were right there with them, but it was a different level,” said Starck, a Wisconsin native. “To be able to see that, it was eye opening. Like, ‘if that’s where we want to get to, then we are going to have to work as hard as Todd said.’”
So that’s what the class did.
And as Ullathorne, Dynka and Starck continued to grind away on the courts at McLeod, Petty and his assistants were hard on the recruiting trail.
Because of the legwork that the class of 2013 put down, Petty has grown the talent pool around his current seniors.
“I knew we had something special with those three girls, it was what we could put around it,” Petty said. “When we were able to add Nikki Sanders and then Sam Adams and Kenna Kilgo and Rashmi (Teltumbde) from Virginia, I think all the pieces just fell right into place.
“Those three seniors obviously started it, but we were able to put four or five girls around them that are exactly the same type of person.”
While the seniors have paid their dues and left their mark on the Tech tennis program, they aren’t ready to stop working and look back just yet.
Each player also has plans to continue with tennis in some capacity (Dynka on the professional ranks, Ullathorne as a college coach and Starck as an assistant with Tech for one year while she finishes her degree), and they know this weekend is paramount in finishing their careers right.
“At this point, just the fact that it may be our last match ever competing for Texas Tech,” Dynka said, “that’s more motivation than anything to just leave it all out there — compete for our teammates, our coaches and ourselves so we can look back and have absolutely no regrets.”
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