MISSOULA — After dominant, unforgettable seasons, two Grizzly tennis players have earned the Big Sky Conference’s highest individual honor.
Haley Driver has been named the conference’s most valuable player, while Andrew Warren is the men’s Big Sky MVP.
Driver helped lead the women’s tennis team to a 9-0 conference record, including the snapping of Sacramento State’s 112 match winning streak. Driver finished the regular season 9-0 in Big Sky matches, with eight of those wins at the No. 1 singles spot.
“She added elements to her game this year that really helped her out,” Head coach Steve Ascher said. “She attacked more this year, she used her serve more this year, and she developed a forehand that could do more directional work. There’s a lot that went into it.
“Most college tennis players are very invested in what they do, but to get that payoff is not always guaranteed. She earned it for how much she’s put into her game.”
The junior defeated players from Washington State and Gonzaga at No. 2 singles early in the season. Driver and partner Precious Gbadamosi annihilated Big Sky teams at No. 1 doubles, finishing the regular season 8-1, and posting a 16-6 overall mark. Ascher says the fruits of the 2014 season stem from her off season labor.
“Her fitness level increased dramatically, her mental approach increased,” Ascher said. “The way she competed and fought was much better this year. The cool thing is that the coaches know all of the players, and when they see a player make that type of commitment to their game, it’s neat, because she ends up on the top of the food chain.”
Driver, who transferred to UM from the University of Oregon after her freshman campaign, is 37-19 in her two seasons in maroon. She says getting the recognition rewards the extra practice time she put in, and all the sacrifices she has made to get better.
“It’s cool because I feel that it’s the hardest I’ve ever worked,” Driver said. “I went to practice 30 minutes or an hour early every day. In a lot of ways the hard work paid off.”
Driver is the second UM women’s player to win the award, as Vanessa Castellano claimed MVP in 1996 and 1997.
For the men’s tennis team, senior Andrew Warren is the first Grizzly to win MVP in school history, and he’s not done playing quite yet. The Idaho Falls, Idaho native and his team play next weekend against the second-seeded Oklahoma Sooners in the NCAA tournament.
Warren, who was a first-team all-conference selection in 2013, finished the regular season with a 7-2 record in Big Sky matches at No. 2 singles, capping off a 71-51 career record. Head coach Kris Nord said Warren has been incredibly consistent in his Griz career.
“He’s been a class act the whole time,” Nord said. “He’s very fair with line calls, he has great sportsmanship, and most importantly he just competes. He gives 100 percent every match, and that’s hard to get out of someone for four long seasons. I think that’s one reason the coaches voted for him — his consistency. I think it’s a career award as much as a senior season award.”
Warren and fellow senior Eric Braun went 7-2 at No. 3 doubles as well, ending the regular season conference slate as winners of their last five matches. The duo then went on to clinch the doubles point in the Big Sky semifinals and championship matches.
“They’ve been our anchor team the last two months,” Nord said. “They really deserve a lot of credit, because they’ve came through under pressure numerous times for us.”
Warren’s top non-conference performances include singles wins against Utah State and then nationally-ranked No. 23 Boise State.
“It’s just Andrew’s mode of operation,” Nord said. “He always does well against good non-conference opponents, and against conference opponents. He’s a competitor.”
Driver will have the 2015 season to defend her title, while Warren’s career will come to a close whenever the Griz lose out in the NCAA tourney.
Head coaches voted for individual awards earlier this week, and the Big Sky announced All-Conference and MVPs on Thursday afternoon.
— Montana Sports Information