The Big Sky Conference has been celebrating the league's success both on and off the playing field by honoring 50 years of men's athletics and 25 years of women's athletics. The 50th anniversary celebrates the all-time individuals, teams and moments in the Big Sky's history, including the selection of the league's "50 Greatest Male Athletes" and the "25 Greatest Female Athletes." Along with these lists, the league will unveil the most memorable moments for both men's and women's competition.
The 112-match Big Sky winning streak recorded by the Sacramento State women's tennis program is No. 5 on the list of the 25 greatest moments in Big Sky women's history. The streak, which included wins over Big Sky opponents in regular season and postseason tournament play, began on March 26, 2003 with a 6-1 victory at Montana State and came to a close this season with a 4-3 loss at Montana on April 11. Lasting nearly 13 years, the streak was the longest by any team from any sport in Big Sky Conference history, and is believed to be the longest in NCAA Division I tennis history.
Below is a story published by the Big Sky Conference....
In 2002, the Sacramento State women's tennis team beat Northern Arizona 4-3 for their first Big Sky Conference title.
It proved to be the start of something big.
Over the next 12 years, the Hornet women have won 12 straight conference titles and captured 112 straight matches against Big Sky opponents (regular-season and postseason). The 112-match winning streak, which recently came to an end, was the longest streak in any sport in Big Sky history.
The domination by the Sacramento State's women's tennis team ranks fifth on the Big Sky Conference's list of "25 Greatest Women's Moments.''
While Sacramento State had a streak that seemed to have no end, it hasn't always been easy. The year before "the streak" began, Sacramento State went 1-4 in conference play. Two years before that, in 1999, Sacramento State had an overall record of 1-15.
"When I took over the team, I think we were the second-worst team in Division I,'' said Sacramento State Director of Tennis Bill Campbell. "We were really bad. We were playing D-II, D-III schools, NAIA schools. The coaches were just trying to get any victories they could."
The process to get a team from worst to first wasn't easy.
"The first thing that we did is we looked at the national rankings and the players," said Campbell. "I went down the list and I remember 65 percent of them were foreign players. The Americans were scattered, but they were concentrated at certain schools.
"It became apparent real fast that if we were going to be a good team, we had to attract foreign players,'' Campbell added. "I think the first year we only had four requests for scholarships, the whole year, and two of them were local high school girls that couldn't play. We also had a girl from Canada and a girl from Sweden."
Once those women started in the program, they liked it at Sacramento State, which seemed to make the process of recruiting foreign players a little bit easier.
"They knew others and we had a whole run for a long time of Swedish players," said Campbell. "We got most of the top players out of Sweden for probably two, three, maybe even four years. As soon as we got into the national rankings, all of a sudden we went from getting four or five requests for scholarships the first year to about 380-400 requests the fourth year."
Campbell believes that most of the recruiting is really done by his student-athletes.
"Most of it is kind of word of mouth,'' he said. "The girls played at the national level so they knew the other players."
When a program starts bringing in players from different cultures and different nationalities, one would think it would result in a long process to try and get them to work together as one team.
"Foreign players, in general, have very good work ethics,'' Campbell said. "They also know if they don't keep their studies up and do well they know they are going home. They come together closely and they are out to accomplish the same goals, together.
"We have a ladder of criteria and number one of the list is that we keep in touch with your family," Campbell said. "No. 2 is that you do your school work and do well at it. No. 3, you practice your tennis, and you practice hard. No. 4, if there is any time left over, you can worry about your social life. And that's the bottom of the list and we tell them every year that if this list gets out of order that there will be some meetings taking place."
During the 112-match winning streak the Hornets outscored Big Sky opponents 682-41 in individual matches. That includes winning by 7-0 or 4-0 scores in 16 consecutive matches spanning 2004 and 2005, 15 straight matches from 2006-07, and 13 straight matches from 2008-10.
Along the way, Sacramento State was nationally ranked much of the time. The Hornets have produced 11 consecutive league MVPs. Margarita Karnaukhova, the MVP from 2003-06, is the only four-time MVP in Big Sky history in any sport. Katrina Zheltova followed with three straight MVPs from 2007-09, and Tatsiana Kapshai won three straight from 2010-2012.
"All of the matches weren't very close,'' Zheltova said. "There were some funny coaches. Some of them, when I'd beat someone 6-1, 6-1, they'd be like, 'oh that match was close.' I'm like, well, the match was 30 minutes.''
"To me, it means I am part of history,'' Karnaukhova said. "That will always remain in my heart.''
Of the 112 straight wins, 62 of those outcomes were decided by 7-0 scores, 17 outcomes by 4-0 scores, and just three were decided by a score of 4-3.
"I don't even think about the streak to be honest with you,'' Campbell said. "What I think about is working with these young people and making sure they are doing well in school. In many ways I am more proud of there academics than I am of the streak. I think that has very long term consequences for them, if they don't do well in school. I want them to love tennis and be on a good team and all that but I want them to be good students first."
The 112-match conference winning streak came to an end on April 11, 2014, when Montana defeated the Hornets 4-3 in Missoula.
The loss to Montana was the first for the team in Big Sky play since a 4-1 setback in the Big Sky Tournament against Weber State on April 14, 2001. The streak, which included wins over Big Sky opponents in regular season and postseason tournament play, began on March 26, 2003 with a 6-1 victory at Montana State. The streak was the longest by any team from any sport in Big Sky Conference history, and is believed to be the longest in NCAA Division I tennis history.
This weekend at the Big Sky Championship, the Hornets look to keep two other streaks alive. Sacramento State has won 24 straight matches in the championship, and 12 consecutive titles.