Chris Young knew he had work to do.
After a disappointing 2021 season that saw his Oklahoma State women’s tennis team finish fifth in the Big 12, with a losing record, Young made his sole focus on returning his tennis program to a level of consistency.
“I wanted to return the program to a level where it should be,” Young, the Cowgirl tennis coach, said. “That (2021) season made me bitter, more bitter than I like to be. I don’t like losing, and even after just one season of it, it was too much for me.”
Young was confident in his team from day one.
A successful fall season proved his point even more, and a season opening win at home over a top 25 Princeton team was yet another stepping stone for his young team.
“I don’t want to say it was our coming out party,” Young said. “I knew we were really talented as a team. We had already faced some early challenges, whether it was Alana (Wolfberg’s) injury, having to start three true freshmen, or early difficulties with Covid, I think we were able to handle those (challenges) pretty well, and I think it prepared us for a very difficult non conference schedule.”
After being picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 women’s tennis preseason poll, the Cowgirls cruised to an 11-1 start to the season with nine ranked wins. As a result, the Cowgirls earned a top 10 ranking, the program’s first since 2019.
The Cowgirls gradually garnished more attention as the season progressed and eventually earned a shot at the Big 12 regular season title in a Bedlam match at the Greenwood Tennis Center. However, following a loss to in-state rival Oklahoma, the Cowgirls finished third in the Big 12 standings, just behind the Sooners and eventual national champions Texas.
A successful regular season earned the Cowgirls a hosting site in Stillwater for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, something that Young believes showcases the pedigree his program holds.
“I think Greenwood is built to host regional play,” Young said. “It was a special moment for our girls, and it was a special moment for this program for sure.”
The Cowgirls cruised through rounds one and two, recording wins over New Mexico State and UCLA to advance to the sweet sixteen for the first time in two years. However, a memorable 2022 season came to an end in Charlottesville, Virginia, following a 4-1 loss to No. 5 seed Virginia.
Young believes this year’s Cowgirl tennis team highlighted the winning culture within the program. A young, new-look roster that lost nearly all of its consistent production from a season ago defied all odds and returned Oklahoma State women’s tennis to a level of national prominence, one that Young believes his team should be at on a consistent basis.
The 2022 season was full of memories, surprises, and special moments that bonded the team more than Young had initially anticipated. A season that included the return of star player Lisa Marie-Rioux after spending the 2021 season away from Stillwater, a sold out Bedlam home match against bitter rival Oklahoma, and win No. 100 at the Greenwood Tennis Center.
“It was great to get things back to the standard where I think our expectations should be at for this program,” Young said. “We always want to be a contender nationally and put ourselves in a position to compete at the highest level. I believe a season like this does that for us moving forward.”
With the surge of true freshmen Mananchaya Sawangkaew and Oona Orpana, some notable transfers Young has reeled in heading into next season, and the opportunity for Marie-Rioux to return with an extra year of eligibility, Young has high hopes in 2023.
To Young, a top two or top three finish in conference play is fun and an NCAA tournament appearance is satisfying to an extent, however, not satisfying enough. He said he believes with the resources, fan support, and investment coming from both the athletic department and university donors, his team is ready to become a consistent national contender starting next season.
“I’m ready to win,” Young said. “I’m ready to take the next step. I think this season was very motivating and eye-opening for us. It’s awesome to have a good season like we did but you don’t want to be satisfied with falling short. I believe we have the talent to take that next step with the resources that we have, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for our program.”