Colorado Buffaloes tennis coach Nicole Kenneally firmly believes there is a light somewhere at the end of dark tunnel that has engulfed her tennis program since CU joined the Pac-12 Conference.
It perhaps is just taking a little longer to get there than Kenneally previously expected.
A 17-year veteran as the leader of CU's tennis program, Kenneally has a Big 12 Conference coach of the year award among her many accolades, and she led the Buffs to the NCAA Tournament in 2007. However, the transition to the Pac-12, one the toughest women's tennis leagues in the nation, has been far from smooth for the Buffs.
That rough ride continued Friday, as CU dropped a 6-1 decision against No. 20 UCLA at the Rocky Mountain Tennis Center.
"Depending upon your outlook, it can be a grind," Kenneally said. "You're looking for those players who are going to keep rising to the challenge. Because it is a challenge. Rarely will you get an easy win. Against the better teams you've got to come out with more tools that are in your tool belt with what you have in your game.
"We want to win more, and that's what we're attempting to do."
Friday's defeat dropped CU to 1-6 in league play this season and left the Buffs with a 4-43 overall in conference matches since joining the Pac-12 before the 2012 season. That ledger includes 0-10 seasons in the Pac-12 in 2012 and 2014. The Buffs also went 0-11 in their final year in the Big 12 in 2011 and have not recorded a winning record in league play since 2009.
In fairness to this year's group, the Buffs suffered a significant loss a month ago when No. 1 singles player Tina Bokhua opted to leave the program, forcing Kenneally to shuffle CU's entire lineup. And Kenneally often faces an uphill battle in recruiting against the myriad Pac-12 powers that, unlike CU, boasts their own, often pristine tennis facilities.
The Rocky Mountain Tennis Center, which hosts a number of CU meets alongside the outdoor facility at the south campus, is conveniently located and graciously accommodating to the Buffs, but the nondescript indoor bubble isn't exactly the highlight of the tour for any recruit that visits Boulder.
"Within the conference, we've lost several (recruits) to other schools in the conference. We've recruited the same players and lost them," Kenneally said. "I think we are a huge opportunity to many girls, but some players would rather be in the lower lineup at a top 10 school rather than coming in and realizing where they can make a difference."
Sophomore Kyra Wojcik turned in the Buffs' only victory on Friday, posting a 6-2, 2-6 (10-3) win at No. 5 singles against UCLA's Kristin Wiley. Alex Aiello, the only senior on CU's roster, put together a promising start at No. 4 singles against the Bruins' Alaina Miller by racing to a 5-1 lead in the first set, but she couldn't maintain the momentum as Miller earned 12 of the next 15 points to post a straight-set win.
"The Pac-12 is a tough conference, but we've been fighting in every match," said Nuria Ormeno Ruiz, CU's No. 1 singles player. "Even though the score is 7-0 or 6-1, it's not really what the actual scoring in the matches is. We have to be positive for the next match and not think about the previous matches."
The Buffs host USC on Sunday at 11 a.m. at the South Campus Tennis Center.
UCLA 6, Colorado 1
Rocky Mountain Tennis Center
Singles — 1. Harrison, UCLA, def. Ormeno Ruiz 6-0, 6-1; 2. McPhillips, UCLA, def. Daniel 6-2, 7-5; 3. Fleming, UCLA, def. Andrinopoulos, 6-4, 6-1; 4. Miller, UCLA, def. Aiello, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2; 5. Wojcik, CU, def. Wiley 6-2, 2-6, 1-0 (10-3); 6. Luca, UCLA, def. Beck 6-3, 6-3.
Doubles — 1. Harrison/Wiley, UCLA vs. Ormeno Ruiz/Daniel, match not completed; 2. McPhillips/Fleming, UCLA, def. Andrinopoulos/Wojcik 6-1; 3. McGill/Miller, UCLA, def. Aiello/Beck 6-2.