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Rules of the Game

Tennis is a sport where either one player (singles) or two players (doubles) compete against the same number of opponents; it may be played indoors or outdoors.  The court is 78 feet long, divided into two equal halves separated by a net that is 3 1/2 feet high.  The court for singles is 27 feet wide, and 36 feet wide for doubles.  The most common court surfaces are hardcourt and clay; tennis at PennStateis played on hardcourts, at the Sarni Tennis Center and the nearby indoor tennis facility. United States Tennis Association (USTA) rules are followed, with a few exceptions implemented by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). 

Tennis scoring is based on points, games, and sets.  In singles, a player must win at least four points AND be ahead of her opponent by at least two points to win a game; play continues until one player achieves this result.   To win a singles set, a player must win six games AND be ahead of her opponent by at least two games; a seven-point tie-breaker (the player must win by at least two points) is played when the score is tied at 6 games each. 

Each doubles match is a “pro-set” in which the winning duo must win eight games and be ahead of its opponents by at least two games.  If the doubles set is tied at eight games, a twelve-point tie-breaker is played.

Intercollegiate tennis matches consist of both singles and doubles matches. Division I men’s and women’s dual and tournament matches usually consist of three doubles matches followed by six singles matches.  One point is awarded to a team for each singles victory, and one point is awarded to a team for winning at least two of the three doubles contests; the team scoring four or more points wins the match.

Intercollegiate tennis usually begins in September and lasts through May.  In the fall, players compete individually and as doubles pairs in tournaments.  The players’ records in these matches carry over into the spring season, and along with the spring results are used to determine participation in the NCAA singles and doubles championships in May.  Fall team records and tournament results usually do not carry over into the spring season, but there are exceptions to this.  Regional ITA tournaments allow some teams to qualify for the February ITA National Team Indoor Championship (The Penn State women’s team is in the East Region). 

In the spring, dual meet (team) competition is emphasized, and a team’s dual meet record is used to select participants for the NCAA’s team championships. Individuals and doubles teams records in these dual meets (as well as their records from the previous fall) count toward these players’ qualifying for the NCAA singles and doubles championships. The women’s tennis team also participates in the Big 10 Championship Tournament in April.

The NCAA championships in May consist of three components: single, doubles, and team. Singles and doubles matches that are part of the team competition do not count in the individual singles and doubles championships.   

Penn State Women’s Tennis History

Penn State’s first women’s tennis team competed in 1965, coached by Ann Valentine.  The team played Chatham,Dickinson, West Chester, and Wilson, and ended the season with a 2-2 record. The next season, Penn State, under new coach Pat Sarni, went undefeated (4-0), one of only two such accomplishments in the history of the program.  In 1969, Joan Nessler took over the coaching reins, achieving a 48-19 record in her nine seasons, including an undefeated 1971 campaign.  When she took over, Penn State played only six matches in a season, but that number increased to twelve in Nessler’s last season (1976/77).

Candy Royer succeeded Nessler, and the team produced double-digit win seasons from 1977/78 through 1980/81.  Seasons expanded to seventeen matches, and Royer compiled a 44-16 record in her four year tenure.

After a losing 1981/82 season, former Penn State men’s tennis star Jan Bortner became head coach, and led the team for eight seasons.  His teams compiled a record of 125-45, highlighted by a 21-6 record in 1987/88.  Except for the 1983/84 team (which went 8-8), all of Bortner’s teams won at least twelve games, and his final five teams averaged over 18 wins a season. 

Bortner resigned as coach so he could take over the men’s coaching duties for the 1990/91 season.

Under his successor, Sue Whiteside, the women’s tennis team continued its success, winning twenty matches and the Atlantic 10 Conference championship in the 1990/91 season.  Buffy Baker took over as coach in 1999/2000; in the spring of 2001, Baker led the team to its first and only NCAA Championship Tournament appearance. 

In 2013 Petra Januskova ended her career tied for 1st in most career doubles victories (62).  She was named Senior of the Year for the ITA Atlantic Region, and also  1st team All-Big 10 for the 3rd straight year (2nd straight as a unanimous selection.) 

Chris Cagle, an assistant coach for the men’s team, was named interim coach for the spring 2014 season. After that season, he was named permanent head coach.

In 2018, the Nittany Lions finished with a 7-15 record (2-9 in the Big Ten).

Team Accomplishments  

NCAA Tournament Appearance 

Atlantic 10 Champion 


Joan Nessler (1969-1976/77) 48-19

Candy Royer (1977/78-1980/81) 44-16 

Jan Bortner (1982/83-1989/90) 125-45

PSU men’s tennis coach (1990/91-2004/05) 
Men’s record 199-159  
2-time Atlantic 10 men’s coach of the year

Sue Whiteside (1991/92-1998/99) 73-104

1990/91 Atlantic 10 Championship

Buffy Baker (1999/2000-2007) 70-104

2001 NCAA Tournament

Dawna Prevett Denny (2007/08-2013) 50-87

Chris Cagle (2013/14-present) 40-72 

Notable Players 

Olga Novikova 

1995, 1996, 1997 All-Big 10
1995, 1996, 1997 Academic All-Big 10

Pilar Montgomery

1998, 2001 All-Big 10 

Rebecca Ho    

2001 All-Big 10   
2000, 2001, 2002 Academic All-Big 10 

Maaria Husain

2005 All-Big 10
2003, 2004, 2005 Academic All-Big 10   

Petra Januskova

2011, 2012, 2013 1st team All-Big 10
PSU top 3 season victory records (30 in 2012, 27 in 2011 and 2013)
PSU career record for doubles victories (62)
Competed in NCAA National Doubles Championships (2013)
2013 ITA Atlantic Region Senior of the Year


Player Recognition

All-Big 10 – Olga Novikova (1995, 1996, 1997), Pilar Montgomery (1998, 2001), Rebecca Ho (2001), Maaria Husain (2005), Petra Januskova (2011, 2012, 2013); Kim Surin (2016).

Academic All-Big 10 – 53 selections.

Regional Arthur Ashe Award for Leadership and Sportsmanship – Katherine Whiteway (2016)

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