Panova Leads Maryland Tennis into New Era
Sept. 21, 2012
By Taylor Smyth, Maryland Athletics Media Relations Assistant
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - During the opening few weeks of fall practice, new Maryland women's tennis head coach Daria Panova has made one thing very clear to her team; she hates to lose. "I'm extremely competitive," Panova said. "I need to win everything. I won't play a sport I can't win."
For a program that underachieved last season after an NCAA tournament berth in 2010, her players could not be more excited about the extra intensity.
"She's so enthusiastic about the program," junior Welma Luus said. "It has rubbed off on all the girls, and everyone is so excited to start playing. It's been good."
The program's ninth head-coach in its 35-year history, Panova boasts a resume that matches her winning mentality. The Moscow native was a two-time All-American and the 2003 Pac-10 Player of the Year while playing for the University of Oregon. Panova says she will use her prior playing experience to show her team what it takes to win.
"Tennis is a game of errors," Panova explains. "You want to make fewer unforced errors than your opponent. I'm too competitive to give away free points, and that's what I'm going to implement with the team. Just don't give away anything for free."
Panova must implement her philosophy quickly because the college tennis season is an absolute grind. Unlike most college seasons, the tennis season is not played over a few months, but rather is drawn out over the whole school year. Competitive play starts this weekend, and stretches through the month of May. The fall season consists of invitational tournaments, with players fighting for individual success.
Panova sees the fall slate as an opportunity to learn more about her players, improve their physical condition, and hone their skills.
"Fall for me is getting ready for the spring," Panova said. "We're working a lot on fitness, on getting competitive. I'm getting to know the girls, and learning what buttons to push to get them to reach their potential. I want to make sure that everyone plays at 100 percent when the spring comes."
In January, the season switches to a more team-oriented format, with schools going head to head in singles and doubles matches. It's where teams gain their conference standing and try to establish a national ranking. Panova could not be more excited to battle the top teams in the ACC with her rebuilding squad.
"To be the best you have to beat the best," Panova said. "The ACC is the best conference in the country. If we can be competitive, Maryland will be one of the best tennis teams in the country."
The progress will not come easily. Panova's squad currently consists of just four players, and while reinforcements may be on the way in January, she is desperate to keep her entire team healthy.
Luus, who reached the NCAA Doubles Tournament last season, admits that the schedule will be difficult, but the native of Pretoria, South Africa says that she and her teammates are ready for the new season, especially with the help of their passionate new coach.
"The ACC is the toughest conference there is," Luus said. "You're always going to have a tough match. I think that's why the fall is really important to prepare yourself. As tough as it is to play those tough teams, that's how we're going to get better as a program. That's what we work for."
Both Ponova and Luus know it will be hard for Maryland to make an impact immediately, but Panova has never been one to strive for the easy situation, and she relishes the chance to turn around the Maryland program. She did not come to College Park to be a short term fix, but instead to set up the program to be successful for years to come.
Part of this plan is to raise awareness about the program. As one of the smaller, lesser known teams on campus, Panova recognizes the challenge to generate buzz about the program. However, she believes there is no better reason to be excited then the possibility of witnessing history.
"I never wanted to be on the team that's already won everything," Panova said. "If you want to play for someone, you want to win for the first time. You want to put your name in the book. I can promise that this team has a lot of potential. It's exciting to witness the progress."
For now though, Panova is focused on her current four players, some who have endured three coaches in three years. She sees potential in her the 2012-13 Terrapins, and whether it's through her past experiences, or even playing a set against one of her players in practice, the former All-American wants nothing more than to help her team work hard, and make sure they leave nothing on the court.
"The most important thing right now is for every single person on my team to reach their potential. I will be very happy at the end of the season if all the girls say, `thank you, we didn't know how good we could be.' I want them to be proud of what they can do."