Kevin Cory is starting his 18th season as head coach of the UNLV women’s tennis team, but don’t tell him that’s a long time.
“It’s gone pretty quick,” Cory said. “We’ve had some really good teams over the years. We’ve had some top 20 teams and we’ve had multiple conference championship teams. We want to keep it going.”
Time flies when you’re winning and Cory has done a lot of that since taking over in 2000.
Cory, who’s a three-time Mountain West Coach of the Year, has guided the Rebels to nine NCAA tournaments in the past 13 seasons.
UNLV has also captured five Mountain West tournament titles under Cory’s guidance, including last season.
The program’s winning ways has attracted the top teams in the nation to its annual tournament.
The Rebels open the 2017 season by hosting the three-day Freeman Memorial Championships beginning Friday at the Fertitta Tennis Complex.
The top five ranked squads in the country — No. 1 Florida, No. 2 North Carolina, No. 3 Pepperdine, No. 4 Stanford and No. 5 Oklahoma State — are scheduled to compete in the eight-team field along with No. 10 Duke, No. 25 UCLA and UNLV.
“This is our 15th season hosting this event and the top teams always compete, but this is probably the strongest field we’ve ever had,” Cory said. “It’s always been one of the premier events in college tennis and it’s become an event where we have a waiting list for top nationally ranked programs wanting to get in every year.”
Cory said his teams never get caught up in the Top 25 rankings and use the high-level experience for Mountain West competition and the NCAA tournament.
But he wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s team records a few upsets this weekend.
“We don’t shy away from playing these type of teams and we like to show the girls that we can compete and they’re not much better than we are,” Cory said.
The Rebels return five of their top six players from last season.
Carol Zi Yang returns for her senior season and is expected to be UNLV’s No. 1 competitor for a second consecutive year.
Yang, who’s from Shenzhen, China, is ranked No. 48 in the nation.
Aiwen Zhu, who had a breakout freshman year, is expected to have a bigger sophomore season as the team’s No. 2. Zhu and Yang formed the No. 1 doubles tandem a year ago, but Cory said he plans on splitting the two Chinese competitors.
Cory expects Paola Artiga to be UNLV’s most improved player. Artiga is a senior from San Salvador, El Salvador.
“(Artiga) had an impressive fall season,” Cory said. “She had a big upset in the regional tournament. I’m excited to see what she brings for her senior year.”
Sophomore Jovana Kenic is the top newcomer after transferring from Albany.
She was forced to look for a new school after Albany dropped the tennis program and she had 19 other teams interested.
Anna Bogoslavets, Mercedes Lopez Velez and Cristina Moroi round out the squad. Tim Nichols returns for a third season as the assistant coach for the Lady Rebels.
Winning a second straight Mountain West title won’t be easy.
“Our division is real strong with San Jose State and Fresno State,” Cory said. “San Diego State is also good and Reno will be much better. This conference is always competitive.”
SWIMMING AND DIVING — The men’s and women’s swimming teams split a double-dual meet with Grand Canyon and California Baptist on Saturday.
The UNLV men defeated Cal Baptist 181-177 and fell to Grand Canyon 170-121.
The UNLV women cruised by Cal Baptist 201-98 and lost to Grand Canyon 162-137.
Jan Kutnik won the men’s 1,000- and 500-yard freestyles (9:31.67, 4:35.27). Kristina Hendrick took the women’s 100 and 200 breaststrokes (1:03.89, 2:19.78).
Contact Gilbert Manzano at email@example.com or 702-383-0492. Follow @gmanzano24 on Twitter.
Swimming and diving: at Cal State Bakersfield, Saturday, 10 a.m.
Women’s basketball: vs. New Mexico, Cox Pavilion, Wednesday, 6 p.m.
Women’s tennis: Freeman Memorial Championships, Fertitta Tennis Complex, Friday-Sunday, all day