IUP women’s tennis opponents in 1974 could identify with the army of Napoleon that marched on Moscow. They, too, were doomed to epic failure.
Coach Mary Louise Eltz’s Indians finished 12-0 that season, but like the tip of an iceberg, that record reveals but a fraction of the tale. The true measure of their might is the fact that IUP won eleven of its matches by 5-0 scores and prevailed 4-1 in the other, after No. 1 singles player Terry Cook suffered an ankle injury in warm-ups and couldn’t continue.
The 1974 Team: Front row, left to right: Sue Baker, Sue Hughes, Cheryl Mistrick, Terry Cook. Middle row, left to right: Barb Beatty, Jan Frissora, Anna Marie Raglani, Kathy Noble, Marcy Schwam. Back row, left to right: Beth Johnson, Vickie Barnot, Lynn Roser, Sue DeFalco, Coach Mary Louise Eltz.
The Indians pummeled opponents like a ruthless heavyweight champion, always winning by a knockout, never showing mercy. A case could even be made that Eltz’s juggernaut was the most dominant team in school history, regardless of sport.
“We seemed to be in a different league than everyone else,” said Cheryl Mistrick Piper, who resides in Chantilly, Va. “You’re talking about a phenomenal team. We were so strong we just overpowered every other team.”
Not only did the Indians win fifty-nine of sixty singles and doubles matches that fall; they took 118 of 124 sets. The challenge facing foes was comparable to climbing Everest in a howling blizzard. Fact is, they struggled just to win games.
“It’s actually quite amazing to go through an entire season and lose only one match,” said Barb Beatty Patterson, a research manager for a Chicago mergers and acquisitions firm who lives in Richland, Mich. “It’s so rare, especially at the collegiate level. And it’s pretty remarkable. given that there wasn’t the money for scholarships and all the recruiting that goes on today in the sport. A lot of us were just walk-ons.”
“...it’s pretty remarkable. given that there wasn’t the money for scholarships and all the recruiting that goes on today in the sport. A lot of us were just walk-ons.”
IUP’s success, in light of such limitations, can be attributed in large part to Eltz, an exceptional coach based both on her record (153-47 over fifteen seasons) and her influence on those she directed.
“It was such a positive experience playing for her,” said Jan Frissora, a self-employed software consultant who resides in Moon Township. “We all did a tremendous amount of growing under Coach Eltz. She really was a good role model for young women. That’s what I remember most, more than any individual matches.”
Eltz consistently turned out winning teams, but her 1974 squad was positively transcendent. The Indians were like a steamroller, pulverizing everything in their path. If Cook didn’t set the tone with a lopsided victory, Marcy Schwam did. Cook compiled an 8-0 record at No. 1 singles and Schwam was 12-0 at No. 2. Together they rid their opponents of hope and their matches of suspense.
“They were two outstanding players, and it was because they worked at it,” said Eltz, who retired from IUP’s health and physical education faculty in 1997. “I mean, they had athletic ability, but they worked at everything they did.”
The third member of the singles lineup was no slouch, either. Mistrick posted a 12-0 record while losing only twenty-seven games in twenty-four sets. She cranked out “bagels”—tennis parlance for a 6-0 score—like a Manhattan deli.
“When you have a player with as much experience as I had—I won a lot of tournaments in the Pittsburgh area and I taught at a racquet club—and I’m playing third singles, that tells you how talented we were,” Piper says. “Terry and I usually finished off our matches in forty-five minutes. We had a conscious battle to see who could get off the court first. And Marcy was very strong on endurance—she ran marathons and everything—so that gave her an edge on opponents. You’re talking about a team very strong in singles. And we were equally strong in doubles.”
Beth Johnson compiled an 11-0 record with various partners; Beatty and Lynn Roser were each 8-0; Anna Marie Raglani was 7-0; and Sue Hughes was 6-0.
IUP’s only setback in sixty individual matches occurred in the season opener. Cook was a late scratch because of her ankle, forcing Eltz to insert Frissora—a doubles specialist—into the No. 1 singles slot opposite Jill Phillipson, Chatham’s top player. Phillipson won 7-5, 6-1, the only blemish in IUP’s otherwise perfect season.
The Indians won every other match 5-0, including a pivotal showdown at Slippery Rock. Eltz took a page out of Knute Rockne’s book and delivered a spirited pep talk before her team battled the unbeaten Rockets, who had spoiled IUP’s bid for perfect seasons in 1972 (9-1) and 1973 (11-1).
“They were the only other school we played that had a phys ed major, so they were good in all of their women’s sports,” said Schwam, a resident of Marblehead, Mass., who works for Reebok as director of U.S. custom footwear. “They were clearly our archrival.”
And they were clearly no match for IUP. The Rockets, despite the backing of a raucous crowd, failed to win even a set.
“They thought they had it in the bag,” Eltz recalled. “Their No. 1 player was Jackie Albenze, who followed me as coach at IUP. She was heartbroken, because they always were top dog, and we took them.”
The Indians blanked Slippery Rock again two weeks later to improve to 10-0, clobbered California for their eleventh victory, then traveled to Edinboro for the finale. Cook, Schwam, and Mistrick swept the singles matches while surrendering only three games, and the doubles teams of Roser-Beatty and Hughes-Johnson completed the 5-0 rout—and the first undefeated season in the history of the program. The players recall the numbing cold and swirling snow flurries more vividly than details of the victory.
“I was used to playing in ninety-degree heat for three or four hours a day during the summer,” Piper said. “To play that day was a real challenge. I remember we were drinking hot chocolate during the match, trying to keep warm.”
Snow and frigid temperatures, though on a grander scale, ultimately drove Napoleon’s army from Russia in 1812. His invasion ranks as an epic failure, a fate common to every one of IUP’s tennis opponents in another autumn, 162 years later.
Mary Louise Eltz’s Indians crushed them all, by an aggregate score of 59-1. They dominated the competition like no other IUP athletic team. Ever.