Carol Plunkett, the San Diego State women's tennis coach, doesn't have the budget to go hopscotching around the country recruiting players. So during her 14-year tenure at SDSU, Plunkett has not been able to spend much time with out-of-state recruits.
That means Plunkett is forced to recruit mostly on feel and instincts.
Such was the case with Nicole Storto, a 5-foot-11 freshman from Scottsdale, Ariz.
Plunkett had heard good things about Storto from Mike and Flo Blanchard, longtime U.S. Tennis Assn. umpires, but had never seen her play. So she hopped on a plane to Phoenix and watched Storto in one of her final high school matches for Xavier High.
After 90 minutes of talking, Plunkett offered Storto SDSU's last scholarship.
"I could see just in that time that she had tremendous desire to work," Plunkett said. "She was strong, lean and lanky, and she seemed to have a great attitude toward the game.
"She seemed like a diamond in the rough--a lot of untapped talent. You could tell she is going to be a good player."
For a freshman, Storto has turned out to be better than good. With her 6-2, 6-4 victory Wednesday over Tamara Enustun of Hawaii in the first round of the Big West team championships, Storto improved her singles record to 16-7--the best winning percentage on the team.
But her doubles play has been even more impressive. Teaming with sophomore Susan Hawke at No. 3, Storto is 11-2. "We always try to be 90% perfect on our judgments, I'd say we were pretty good on this one," Plunkett said.
Storto and fellow freshman Paige Hammond have helped lead the 13th-ranked Aztecs (15-11) closer to a third consecutive NCAA berth. After Wednesday's 5-1, first-round victory over Hawaii, the Aztecs are just two victories from their fifth Big West Conference title in a row.
Hammond, who flip-flops with Storto at the No. 5 and 6 singles positions and rooms with her, is 10-5 even after missing three weeks with mononucleosis.
"In some ways Hammond and Storto have set the tone for the year," Plunkett said. "Their guttiness and intensity have been a model. The sophomores (Eva Olivarez, Hawke and Tonya Johnson) have formed the core, but the freshman have provided the spark."
Included in Storto's college victories this season are upsets of Arizona State's Pam Cioffi and Cal's Veena Probhaker.
"I just got killed by both of them in the juniors, but my mental game as changed a lot since then," Storto said.
To say the least.
"I used to get so mad at myself," she said. "I got out of hand a couple times. I was pretty embarrassing. I guess I thought I should have been playing better than I was."
But thanks to the calming influence of Plunkett, Storto's tantrums have all but stopped.
"Carol has brought a lot of class to the game," Storto said. "She's made us respect the person that we're playing. That way we don't feel so bad when we lose."
Except for a two-game lapse in the second set against Enustun, Storto and her two-handed backhand and overhead smash dominated.
"My backhand is my best shot, and today it really pulled me through," Storto said.
Today, Storto and the Aztecs play UC Irvine in the Big West semifinals.
In the Ojai junior championships, six San Diego area girls--Lynn Coakley, Brooke Galardi, Suzy Drage, Branaca Elsberry, Ditta Huber and Nicole Elliot--advanced in straight sets to the round of 16 in the 18-and-under division. . . . Nikki Willette of Serra, the defending section champion, won, 6-0, 6-0, to advance into the round of 16 in the girls' 16s. Leeann Rostovsky of La Jolla also advanced with a 6-0, 6-2 victory. . . . In the boys' 16s, Chris Tontz of San Diego won, 6-0, 6-0. . . . James Conda of La Jolla High, last year's 14-and-under boys' champion, and La Jolla's Jonathon Elsberry advanced to the quarterfinals of the boys' 16s doubles. . . . In the first round of the CIF boys' tournament, St. Augustine High's Ignacio Martinez defeated Mike Bannister of Newbury Park, 6-2, 6-4; Jose Medrano of Bishops defeated Brandon Worley of Rolling Hills, 6-0, 6-0; Mike Paradowski of El Capitan defeated Eric Mateljan of Redlands, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2. Franciso Santillian of Hilltop played two matches and advanced to the quarterfinals with a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Richard Williams of Central.