Walker Returns after Summer Travels with USTA Collegiate Team
Aug 14, 2013
Lee Taylor Walker with UCLA's Robin Anderson and former Nebraska player Mary Weatherholt on the team's trip to Portland, Ore.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - University of Memphis women's tennis coach Lee Taylor Walker wrapped up his first summer as one of three coaches for the USTA Women's Collegiate Team, which consisted of seven of the nation's top collegiate tennis players. The squad captured two singles titles in the four tournaments on Walker's slate.
The women's team was comprised of four players who recently wrapped up their collegiate careers - Jacqueline Cako (Arizona State), Nicole Gibbs (Stanford), Lauren Embree (Florida) and Mary Weatherholt (Nebraska) - and three current college players - Julia Elbaba (Virginia), Krista Hardebeck (Stanford) and Robin Anderson (UCLA).
"This team was a real privilege to be a part of," Walker said. "The other coaches and girls were great people to build relationships with, and the experiences we all had together were so much fun."
The collegiate team began their summer competition schedule July 1 in Sacramento, Calif., at the Sacramento 50k.
At the Sacramento 50k, Anderson and Embree quickly announced their presence with three victories to advance to the main draw doubles championship before falling to Great Britain's Naomi Broady and Australia's Storm Sanders, 6-3, 6-4. Cako also began strong in doubles play, advancing to the semifinal round with former Tennessee All-American Natalie Pluskota before falling to Broady and Sanders.
Weatherholt, now a volunteer assistant coach for the Lady Tigers, had the most successful outing for the collegiate team in singles play in Sacramento. She posted three victories to advance to the main draw and followed with a straight-set win over Sanders to advance to the main draw second round before losing to Russia's Alisa Kleybanova, a former top-20 player in the world. Also making appearances in the main draw were Embree and Anderson.
The following week, the team traveled to Yakima, Wash., for the Yakima 50k where Gibbs captured her first professional title after five victories, including three in straight sets. Gibbs moved on to the second round after a retirement from American Alexandra Stevenson before cruising with straight-set wins over Americans Asia Muhammed and Sachia Vickery. In the semifinal match, Gibbs battled back from a 6-4 first set defeat with 6-2, 6-1 set wins over Israel's third-seeded Julia Glushko to advance to the finals. In the championship match, Gibbs had little difficulty in claiming her first title with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Croatia's Ivana Lisjak.
A week later, the team traveled down the road to Portland, Ore., to participate in the Portland 50k. In doubles action, Cako teamed up with Pluskota once again to advance to the main draw semifinals after two straight-set wins. In the semifinals, the duo dropped the first set, 6-3, to Americans Sanaz Marand and Ashley Weinhold before battling back to take the next set, 6-4. Cako and Pluskota's chance for a championship appearance would fall short following a 10-5 third set loss.
Gibbs put together another strong outing in Portland with two straight-set victories in the first two rounds of the main draw, including a victory over Japan's second-seeded Misaki Doi. However, Gibbs' run for a second-straight title ended with a 6-2, 6-0 defeat to fifth-seeded Shelby Rogers in the quarterfinals.
In the final tournament under Walker's direction, Embree took home her first title with a victory at the Fort Worth 10k. Embree picked up two quick wins over Americans Kyra Wojcik and Jacqueline Wu to advance to the quarterfinals. After dropping the first set to Baylor's Ema Burgic, 6-2, in the quarterfinals, Embree battled back with 6-4, 6-3 set wins to move on to the semifinal match.
Players battled the Texas heat throughout the tournament with temperatures rising as high as 120 degrees on the court. In the semifinals, Embree held a 6-0, 3-5 lead over Georgia's Lauren Herring before Herring retired to advance Embree to the championship match. In the finals, Embree came back from a 6-3 first set loss to claim a 6-1 second set victory over Japan's Miyu Kato. In the final set, Embree jumped out to a 3-1 advantage before Kato retired to give Embree the crown.
"Our goals were to help the team see how enjoyable the professional tour can be, while trying to equip them mentally and physically to be compete and be successful with the best players in the world," Walker said. "It couldn't have gone any better, and I am looking forward to hopefully continuing on with this team in the future, and watching these girls mature into the next WTA tennis stars for America."
Gibbs will be a participant in the US Open, which will take place Aug. 26 through Sept. 9. Other members from the USTA Women's Collegiate Team could also make appearances in the prestigious tournament.
Walker and the Memphis women's tennis team will open the 2013-14 season at the CCLR Invitational in Little Rock, Ark., Sept. 20-22, and the Amelia Island 10k in Amelia Island, Fla., Sept. 21-24.