As Close As A Lock Can Get




The following article appeared in the Army Official Sports Report on Friday, Feb. 19, and was written by John Ferro.

WEST POINT, N.Y. -
Army women's tennis coach Paul Peck says that each team he coaches has its own personality.

This year's team, dominated by seasoned juniors, has an almost business-like approach, Peck said. There is no horsing around before practice.

"I think there is a real attitude of ‘OK, we know what to do to make it happen, so let's do it,' " Peck said. "They're almost at the point where they are professional about what they need to do."

That is not good news for the rest of the Patriot League. Once again, the Black Knights women's tennis team is the favorite to win the league championship and advance to the NCAA tournament.

Consider:

* Over the past five seasons, Army is 24-0 against Patriot League opponents.
* Army has made nine trips to the NCAA tournament since 1999, including the last five years in a row.
* An Army player has won "Player of the Year" honors each of the past three seasons.

The Black Knights are not just a powerhouse in their league. They are enjoying one of the most successful stretches of any program at West Point.

"I don't know if there is any secret," said Peck, now in his 15th season. "We've been fortunate to have some good recruiting classes. I think once you established a track record of doing well, the word kind of gets out. Recruits who maybe would not have thought of West Point being an option, all of a sudden now they have friends who have gone to West Point or are going to West Point. So now they look at it as an option. So, the team kind of sells itself."

It also helps to have a coach who understands the military way of life. Peck enlisted in the Army after graduating from the University of Illinois in 1984. He went to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga. He spent three years as a platoon leader in an artillery unit in Germany, commanded a field artillery unit during Operation Desert Storm and rose to the rank of Major before retiring in 1997.

"I think I have a better understanding than maybe other coaches of what is in store for these kids after they graduate," he said.

What's in store for his team this year is more success. Returning to the No. 1 singles spot is junior Annie Houghton of Sewickley, Pa. Houghton was Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year as a freshman. Last year, she became the first player in league history to repeat as Player of the Year.

"She works hard," Peck said. "She obviously has a lot of talent, but she has really matured and her game has matured. She really works hard on her fitness. After her freshman year, she realized she needed to be a fitter player, a stronger player. She has developed her left-hand serve more. She's developed her all-court game. Everything she has achieved, she's worked hard for. I mean, she is probably one of the hardest workers – if not the hardest worker – on our team in terms of hitting the gym and spending the extra time on the court, trying to develop her game."

Houghton is surrounded by talented teammates. Army's No. 2 player is a freshman – Erin Colton of Davie, Fla. Three second-team All-League players return, including senior co-captain Kristin Beehler of Wichita, Kan. Juniors Michael Tollerton and Robie Verano also earned all-league honors.

Army has not advanced far in the NCAA tournament in part because of the Patriot League's comparatively low power rankings. That typically pits Army against a national powerhouse in the first round of the tournament, resulting in an early exit.

But Peck believes that will change.

"Each year we get better," he said. "We get stronger. Our national ranking gets better. I definitely think in the future we have the ability to win a couple of rounds, get deeper in the tournament. … I know some people think the academies are mid-majors, this is as good as they can get. But I think we really have the potential to get stronger every year and do better every year."

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