By Cody Soto
When head coach Joey Scrivano walks to his office in the morning, he passes a reminder of the success he and his women’s tennis teams have accomplished since he was hired as Baylor’s head coach in 2003.
It’s not all about the hardware for Scrivano, though. It’s the process and culture that make the difference for the program.
“Culture wins matches, and it’s very undervalued,” Scrivano said. “We look for players that have high character and want to improve. If we have those qualities, then they usually do really well here.”
Entering Scrivano’s 13th season as head coach, the No. 6 women’s tennis team has brought home 10 regular season Big 12 championships, seven Big 12 tournament championships, five NCAA Elite Eight and two Final Four appearances.
Time in and time out, the Lady Bears have proven their dominance in dual-match play. The 2015 season marks the fourth time in program history Baylor has jumped out to an 8-0 start.
“It shows that our players are doing the right thing; they are playing the right way,” Scrivano said. “The girls are embracing the plan and they’re really committed to doing the work. Results are just taking care of themselves, so I’m really pleased.”
Part of the Lady Bears’ success can be directly linked to the diverse roster that Scrivano and his staff compile each year. Five of Scrivano’s current players are American-born while the other four originate from Europe, Asia and Africa.
The game of tennis is said to have originated around 1000 A.D., when French monks bounced a ball against a wall or over a rope across the yard.
Since then, Europe has developed the concept into an international sport featuring tournaments hosted around the world each year. It just makes sense that recruitment starts across the Atlantic Ocean, Scrivano said.
“Recruiting’s a lot of work, and we’re just trying to find the right fit,” he said. “For recruiting, you have to look everywhere when finding the right student-athletes who fit your culture.”
Ema Burgic, a senior from Lukavac, Bosnia and Herzegovina, committed to Baylor in 2011 after seeing the atmosphere that Baylor had to offer. Encounters with past players gave her an impression of the environment Scrivano has fostered.
“I had a lot of offers from other schools, but I knew the tennis program is amazing here and I wanted to get better,” Burgic said. “I came here for my recruiting trip, and as soon as I came here, I knew this was the right place for me. In these four years, I really did get better.”
Scrivano went to visit Burgic in Europe four years ago and quickly learned that Burgic didn’t even practice in her hometown. Instead, she had to go to another town in order to play on a tennis court.
“When I went to visit her, I asked her, ‘When am I going to be able to see you play?’” Scrivano said. “She told me, ‘There’s no courts in my town, and the courts in the next town are all booked up.’ That gives you an idea of where some of these amazing student-athletes come from, the humble background.”
International students committing to Baylor allows Scrivano to put together an environment that is attractive to recruits and effective for success. Sophomore Blair Shankle, a Dallas native, has been able to experience the diversity in her two years in a Baylor uniform.
“It makes us a stronger team because we truly have to get to know each other since everyone is coming from a different walk of life,” sophomore Blair Shankle said. “That makes us get to know one another better. If you’re a close team, then you’re going to perform better, and I think that’s very important.”
While language barriers are apparent in this process, the women’s tennis team has embraced the opportunity to learn about each other. With each new player, another custom is introduced to the program.
“You get to see where players are coming from because everyone is different in their own way,” Burgic said. “Being a diverse team is an amazing experience because it prepares you for life after college, the real life.”
Baylor women’s tennis has made it a standard to bring home the Big 12 Championship trophy each season, that’s not the focus of the team. It’s the development of each player’s game that motivates the team, junior Rachel James-Baker said.
“This program isn’t just focused on winning, which is why I came here,” James-Baker said. “It’s all about development. With that you’re going to be able to defeat people and see the results.”
With the investment of each player evident in the team’s chemistry, Baylor’s program is built to maintain its status as the top Big 12 team and a national title contender every year. It all starts with the recruitment and the acceptance of the process.
“We recruit players who want to do the right thing,” Scrivano said. “They’re really into the process, and we have a good formula. As long as we keep recruiting well and keep giving them good knowledge, then the results will take care of themselves.”