Jenny Mainz Has Alabama Women's Tennis on the Rise

Article excerpt

Jenny Mainz knew it was coming.

She had been head women's tennis coach at the University of Alabama for three seasons and hadn't won a single match in Southeastern Conference play.

She got called into the office of Mal Moore, then UA's athletics director.

"Jenny, I really like you," he told her. "I like you as a human being and I want to keep you, but you have to win in the league."

That was back in 2000. Mainz, now in her 17th year as head coach of the Crimson Tide, started getting UA to the postseason on a regular basis beginning with the next year. This weekend, after winning Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year honors for the third time in the last four seasons and winning the SEC regular- season championship for the first time in school history, Mainz will take Alabama into NCAA Tournament play as the No. 2 overall seed in the country.

The road from rock bottom to national-level success has been a long one. It started with that talk with Moore.

"The first season we were 0-21 and 12th in the conference -- there were only 12 teams at the time," Mainz said. "My second year we won three matches. The third year we won seven matches.

"When I came to Alabama, I knew the expectations, I know that they expected us to win championships -- SEC championships and NCAA championships -- and contend to be a premier team with the best, and that's why I came here. That's what I expected out of myself, out of our teams."

Before Mainz, UA had made the NCAA Tournament field only twice. This marks the 11th appearance under her leadership, starting in 2001 with a string of six years in a row. The program was on the rise, but then Alabama failed to make the postseason three out of four years from 2007 through 2010.

There was a reason. Mainz's father, Edward, was diagnosed with ALS -- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease -- in 2005. He battled the crippling neuromuscular condition until passing away on Jan. 15, 2009. Mainz made regular trips, sometimes more than once a month in season, to her family's home in Dallas while still trying to coach the Crimson Tide.

"I went home and checked on things or helped out," she said. "It was a tough personal time for me being torn with my commitment and my responsibilities here and my dedication and my loyalty to my family."

Moore elected to stick with her through the program's downturn that coincided with Mainz's family crisis.

"In no way am I making any kind of concessions or excuses, but I'm truly grateful for the opportunity that Coach Moore gave me and stuck with me when he didn't have to," Mainz said. "He believed in me when I really wasn't giving him a great reason to."

Moore, who passed away last spring, didn't live to see the full turnaround of the program.

Alabama returned to NCAA Tournament play in the 2011-12 season. UA was seeded high enough to host the first two rounds the next season, but was upset on its own court by Georgia Tech. Alabama stormed back last season to host again, this time winning its regional and advancing to the round of 16.

This season has been even better, with Alabama claiming the conference crown and earning its highest-ever seed. UA is now recognized as a true national championship contender. Mainz cites Alabama's national championships in football, gymnastics, softball and men's and women's golf in recent seasons as providing fuel for her program's rise. …