By Christina Loforti
One of the most celebrated tennis coaches in the history of BYU retired at the end of August, 2003.
Not only did Ann Valentine excel in her coaching techniques, but she also worked to improve women”s sports in her role as a women”s athletics administrator.
Following in her footsteps requires packing a lunch.
Ann Valentine came to Utah in 1965 for a change of climate. Little did she know she would be spending the next 38 years at BYU, leaving a legacy for women”s sports.
Her story is one of overcoming obstacles and following dreams.
Those dreams did not come easy. In fact, Valentine faced many challenges early in life. Orphaned at the age of 9, Ann was raised by her nine siblings who worked hard to obtain whatever employment they could find in order to make ends meet.
She said her family was the central part of her life and even attributes her athletic inclinations to her brothers.
“I did what they wanted to do, which was play football,” Valentine said. “We played all kinds of sports that didn”t take money, such as softball and baseball, in the local fields attached to the Catholic Church we attended.”
Since money was scarce, the family had to pound the sharp edges of a milk can to make a football. They also cut a deal with a local custodian to play basketball in the high school gym with an actual basketball for an hour. In turn, they were required to take down chairs after.
Valentine developed her tennis instincts at age 14. At first, she shagged balls for her older brother and sister. Her work paid off because she was allowed to hit a few balls at the end of their match.
A local doctor, who owned the clay court, ended up giving Valentine her first tennis racket.
“The doctor gave me a square, wooden racket,” she said. “I can remember that the grip was very large and smooth because there wasn”t any leather grip on it at that time.”
Russ Kramer was also instrumental in fueling Ann”s passion for tennis. She said Russ always encouraged and helped her develop her strokes. He even took her to watch a professional tennis circuit being played in Pittsburgh.
Valentine eventually ended up at Slippery Rock College in Pennsylvania. While there, she earned a bachelor”s degree in physical education. She also was a four-sport athlete, competing on the tennis, volleyball, field hockey and basketball teams.
Her tennis prowess was defined when she was named the No. 1 player in both singles and doubles. She lost only one tennis match in her four years at college.
Valentine smiled as she recalled her only loss to what she calls a “poodle-hitter.”
“She kept floating high, bouncing balls deep to the baseline,” Valentine said. “I had a more aggressive style of playing, so it frustrated me to no end. It was a great learning lesson.”
BYU handed Valentine the coaching keys to the women”s tennis team in 1969. At that time, tennis in the area was like an old run-down car: beat up and going nowhere.
“When I came to BYU many years ago, the sport was a glorified sports day program,” said Valentine. “I had to be very creative in trying to get some of the top teams in the country to make the trip here to BYU.”
Valentine did exactly what she set out to do. Over time, BYU improved its ranking and became a national threat.
Playing an increasingly challenging schedule, Valentine”s teams won 15 conference championships. Over 23 years, 21 of her teams were ranked in the top 20 and 12 in the top 10.
Over her 27-year coaching career, Valentine compiled a 427-175 record, a 71 percent winning average. She also coached 17 All-American athletes.
Throughout her career, Valentine received countless awards for her skills and efforts to advance intercollegiate competition for women. She initiated the first Mixed Team Collegiate Tournament at BYU and created the first national indoor round-robin team competition – now an ITA Grand Slam event.
In 1995, Valentine was awarded The Wilson/ITA National Division-I Coach of the Year, making her the first BYU women”s coach to receive a national coaching title.
The following year, she received the ITA Rolex Meritorious Service Award and was later inducted into both the Utah Hall of Honor and BYU”s Hall of Fame.
To top it off, Valentine was inducted into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Women”s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in 2002.
Margaret Blake, who was coached by Valentine, said Valentine was a master of tennis strategy.
“People wanted to win for Ann,” said Blake. “She prepared us to play by taking away all of our excuses.”
Blake also described Valentine as a coach with integrity. If anyone did not play with high standards, Blake said, Valentine would not let them play.
“Don”t get discouraged by failures,” Valentine would tell her players. “Remember that success and greatness are a process of climbing.” With tennis being her true love, the 71-year-old Valentine said she still plays when she can. She now plans to go back east to spend time with her five remaining brothers and sisters.
Valentine said her advice to future players would be to leave the court a better person than they are now, and to be appreciative to those who have helped them attain their goals.
She also added a twist to the phrase Vince Lombardi coined: “Remember that winning is not the only thing in life – wanting to win is.”