Md. women seek good showing in clay tourney Bittles, Griffin mark better era of scholarships

September 24, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

For the Maryland women who compete in the T. Rowe Price National Intercollegiate Clay Court Championships starting today in Pikesville, a good showing might have greater impact off the court than on it.

A good performance doesn't prepare the College Park team members to play in future clay-surface tournaments, because this is the only clay-court collegiate meet of the year. Nor does it help the team toward winning the ACC championship or a berth in the NCAA championships.

But for the Terrapins, an impressive performance by Lorraine Bittles and Meg Griffin would be another sign of growth in a program that has been ascending since their arrivals in the mid-1990s.

Bittles and Griffin -- No. 9 in preseason doubles rankings -- face 13th-ranked Kristie Dascolli and Brianna Harris of Ohio State at 1 p.m. today, hoping to do better than last year when they advanced to the second round. The two, doubles partners since 1996, also made the NCAA tournament last season, a sign of leaps they've instigated.

"Both have been instrumental in turning our program around where we have a chance to be in the top 30," Maryland coach Jim Laitta said. "They had opportunities to go where they wanted, and we were fortunate to get these two."

Fortunate is better than hopeless, which is where Laitta was until the school gave him scholarships during the 1994-95 season, as he had been promised when he came from Mississippi State in 1989.

"It knew it was going to happen, but it was a question of when it was going to happen," Laitta said. "I was pretty upbeat to say the least. Recruiting has never been easier."

For one thing, the boost from nothing to full funding of scholarships meant that Laitta could expand his reach in procuring players. Griffin (24-14) came from Topeka, Kan., Bittles from Nashville, Tenn. Another top player, Thea Ivanisevic, who lives in Switzerland, is the cousin of world-class player Goran Ivanisevic.

The 80th-ranked Griffin said she wanted to leave the Midwest and was wooed by the school's quality, the area and by Laitta, who told her that she would play a major role in bringing Maryland women's tennis from the bottom of the ACC.

"He told me what he could do with my game and how we could improve the team," said Griffin, who faces top-seed Mirela Vladulescu of Alabama-Birmingham in singles competition today at 10 a.m. "It's great to be part of a building process. How things have changed here have been amazing."

Note: UMBC's Oscar Lopez, who lost to Texas Christian's Martin Jirak, 7-5, 6-3, in the qualifying rounds yesterday, qualified through a lucky-loser draw and will face Kansas' Luis Uribe in the first round of singles' competition at 8: 30 a.m. today. The Suburban Club is at 7600 Park Heights Ave., just north of Slade Avenue. Admission is free.

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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