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Judy Dixon enters final season with UMass tennis with simple message: One match at a time

(Jong Man Kim/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts tennis program will look drastically different at this time next year, with the departure of long-time head coach Judy Dixon, who’s entering her 25th and final season as the Minutewomen’s coach.

Dixon joined the UMass program in 1992, pulling double-duty and coaching the now defunct men’s tennis team from 1993–2001. She will leave behind a legacy that includes an Atlantic 10 championship in 2001, an NCAA Tournament berth, two New England championships in 1996 and 2001 and over 300 career wins.

“I am proud of the success of the men’s and women’s team, both on and off the court. However, what has meant the most to me is the opportunity to engage daily with young adults, to help guide them through their four years of college and to stay connected with them as they move into productive lives,” Dixon said in a press release in September. “As I look back on my 25 years, what stays with me the most is the camaraderie, caring and commitment I have witnessed. Truly, I have been a lucky person.”

Dixon also had an illustrious playing career. She won the National Junior Indoor Championship at age 17, and then moved on to play at the University of Southern California. She also had a successful professional career that included a pairing with the number one player in the world at the time in Billie Jean King, in addition to appearances at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

“Judy does a really good job of getting a really good balance between when to be hard on us and when we need some encouragement,” senior Anna Woosley said. “For example, after our loss against Georgetown she was really good at evaluating the match afterwards and not being too tough on us because it was a really tough loss for us, but the next day she was really tough on us against George Washington, and she got us really motivated for that match and we came out with a win. She just finds a really good balance.”

While much of the focus from the outside will be on Dixon’s swan song as a coach, inside the locker room and on the court, the primary focus as always is on winning a championship. The Minutewomen’s 2015-16 campaign came to a crashing halt last April in the A-10 Championships in Mason, Ohio. UMass was the second seed in the tournament after a 14-6 regular season. Nevertheless, in the first round it fell to No. 7 George Washington 4-3. The sour taste from that loss has stuck with Minutewomen players and coaches going into this season.

“The reason we feel like we didn’t do as well as we could have in A-10’s last year is because we took it for granted. We were seeded two and we had done really well the previous year, and we kind of felt like we were doing so well we took it all for granted,” said Woosley, who will be playing her last matches for UMass this spring.

“We are really trying hard to emphasize how much we really want to win A-10’s this year but also not doing what we did last year,” Woosley added. “We don’t want to say ‘when we win A-10’s,’ we want to take it one step at a time. If we win a match great, if we lose a match we learn from it and move on.”

When asked if she had any extra incentive to try and win this season given the fact that it is both her final season as a player and her coach’s final year, Woosley said, “I just think [about] freshman year, I really thought we would have a chance to win [A-10’s] and we were close a few times, but I am really desperate to win and I know the other seniors are as well.”

Dixon will not speak about her retirement this season.

“I don’t want a Kobe Bryant or Big Papi farewell tour,” Dixon told the Massachusetts Daily Collegian in September. “I’m well aware that every day is the last day of this, but I want to put it aside and revisit it at the end of season.”

The message Dixon has been trying to impart on her team this season has been to simply take things one match at a time.

“The message to the team this year is that we take nothing for granted,” Dixon said. “The schedule is much tougher so I do not expect our win-loss record to be as strong as prior years. The schedule was put in place to make sure that we are match tough for the conference championships, then at the end of April in Orlando.”

Dixon will rely on three players who will be with the Minutewomen next season after her departure to carry the load this season. Those three are junior Ana Yrazusta, sophomore Ruth Crawford and freshman Janja Kovacevic.

“I am particularly pleased with the effort and results of [those] three,” Dixon said. “They have all put extra time into their games to leave it all out there. They are moving better, learning how to play the score, when to apply pressure, and when to take their foot off the gas.”

Dixon knows each day she comes to work at UMass this season will be one of her last. She just coached her final match at the Bay Road Tennis Center in Amherst this past Sunday afternoon in a 6-1 win over Army. Nevertheless, she would not allude to it after the match, keeping the focus on the season.

“Our team goal is to win the conference,” Dixon said. “Anything less than that will be a disappointment to the team I am sure. I am committed to the journey and to make sure they improve mentally and physically each match. That is my personal goal.”

The future of the program as currently constituted is up in the air. Players have no idea who their next head coach will be, but Dixon is confident that the Minutewomen will continue to build.

“The team is in good hands with the returners and the additions through recruiting,” Dixon said.

Dixon will always be remembered for her lengthy career as a coach at UMass, and the impact she has had on the tennis community not only in Massachusetts, but around the nation.

However, as is the case with any great coach, Dixon’s primary focus is on the next match, and not reflecting on the past. She knows that there would be no better end to her career than with another championship.

Jake Mackey can be reached at jacobmackey@umass.edu.

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