When UAB hired Mert Ertunga to coach the women's tennis team in June of 1992, the Blazers knew they were getting a proven winner. What they didn't know is that he would lead the Blazers in one of the biggest turnaround stories in all of women's collegiate tennis. In just one year, the Blazers won their first-ever conference championship (Great Midwest) with a 14-5 overall record. Ertunga received Great Midwest Coach of the Year honors for his efforts.
Ertunga's second year, 1994, saw the Blazers' efforts result in even greater progress. The team had a 16-5 record on the season and swept the Great Midwest Conference for its second straight title. Ertunga was again named Conference Coach of the Year. Two Blazers earned spots in the national rankings and Gulberk Gultekin became the first UAB female to participate in the NCAA Championships.
The 1995 season ended with the program's third straight Great Midwest Championship title. Playing the toughest schedule in the program's history, the Blazers finished the season at 13-11 and jumped into the national rankings - the first time ever for a UAB women's tennis team.
UAB ended the 1996 season with an 18-3 record and a No. 39 ITA rank. The Blazers captured their fourth-straight conference title as UAB won the inaugural Conference USA Championship. Three players (No. 22 Gultekin, No. 52 Zsofia Csapo and No. 63 Paula Biggs) finished in the top-100 ITA singles rankings. Conference coaches selected Ertunga as the league's Coach of the Year.
Injuries took their toll in 1997 as UAB tied for 45th in the ITA rankings and ninth in the South Region preseason polls and finished 10-14 overall against a tough schedule which featured seven ranked opponents. The Blazers won five of their last eight matches to finish the season strong and take fifth place in the Conference USA Championships.
The Blazers had a strong season in 1998 going 14-8 overall and 6-1 in Conference USA. UAB advanced to the finals of the C-USA tournament and was defeated by Houston, 5-2. As a team, UAB was ranked as high as 65th in the ITA poll and finished the 1998 season ranked 71st. UAB faced eight ranked opponents and posted wins over No. 29 South Florida and No. 62 Alabama.
The biggest story of the 1998 season was undoubtedly freshman sensation Mirela Vladulescu. Vladulescu became the first women's tennis player to win the first two legs of the Collegiate Grand Slam. She went 40-3 overall on the season, advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament and was ranked No. 1 in the ITA poll for the majority of the season. She became the women's tennis program's first All-American and became the first UAB singles player to be ranked No. 1 in the ITA poll. She also advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament in doubles play with partner Paula Biggs.
In 1999, UAB posted a 12-10 overall record and a 6-3 record in Conference USA. Significant victories included wins over No. 70 Louisville at the C-USA Championships and No. 46 UTEP. The Blazers ranked as high as No. 70 in the ITA poll and finished the season tied for 75th in the ITA and 14th in South Region. Sophomore Mirela Vladulescu made her second consecutive appearance at the NCAA Championships in singles play.
In 2000, Ertunga guided the Blazers to a 12-8 record and a second-place finish in the C-USA Championships. The team finished the season ranked 73rd in the ITA poll and 14th in the South Region. Sophomore Monika Schmid and junior Mirela Vladulescu both earned Athlete of the Week honors and were first-team All-Conference USA selections. Vladulescu was also named Co-Conference USA Most Valuable Player. With his team's success, Ertunga was named Coach of the Year for the fourth time in eight years.
The Blazers went 21-3 overall in 2001, winning their first 16 matches. It was the best start in school history and UAB looked like it was on its way to the NCAA Regionals. The Blazers ranked as high as 46th in the ITA rankings, with Mirela Vladulescu and Monika Schmid also in the rankings. The Blazers came out strong at the C-USA Championships, but finished second after falling to 51st-ranked Tulane in the finals. After an incredible season, the Blazers didn't get a bid to the NCAA's.
The 2002 season started on a bumpy road as the Blazers lost their first four matches, but UAB rebounded to finish 11-11 overall and 4-1 in C-USA action. UAB's Femke de Boer and Monika Schmid finished the season as the 56th-ranked doubles combination in the country. de Boer and Schmid compiled a 14-5 overall record in dual play, all at the No. 1 slot. Schmid was also named to the Conference USA first team, after finishing the season with a 14-6 record at the No. 1 position.
In 2003, the Blazers finished with a 10-8 record, including a 3-4 conference mark. Senior Natascha Immele led the Blazers by posting a 10-7 record at the No. 1 spot for UAB. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the play of freshman Ornischa Maier-Knapp. Maier-Knapp recorded a 10-2 record in dual-match action as she was 3-0 at the No. 3 postion and 7-2 at the No. 4 slot for the Blazers.
The Blazers headed into the 2004 dual-match season shorthanded, as only six players were healthy and available. Of those six players, four of them were newcomers. After starting 1-6 overall, UAB rebounded to tally a 12-15 mark and a 5-7 Conference USA record. The Blazers got a lot of help from the bottom half of the lineup, posting a 39-36 record at the No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 spots.
UAB had another successful season in 2005. The Blazers finished 14-7 overall and posted a six-match win streak during the season. UAB entered the Conference USA Championships as the No. 10 seed, but battled through the competition to place sixth overall.
In 2006, the Blazers again eclipsed 10 wins for the season as the team posted a mark of 12-6 to move Ertunga within nine victories of reaching the 200-win plateau for his career.
Ertunga had the Blazers back in the ITA top-75 in 2007 as they finished the season with a 14-2 record which included a victory over 74th-ranked Southern Miss.
Success is something Ertunga also enjoyed throughout his playing career. He began playing tennis at the age of nine in his native Turkey. In 1989 and 1990, the native of Istanbul, earned the No. 1 men's ranking in his home country. He represented Turkey in Davis Cup competition in 1990 and 1991. In 1993, he was chosen by the Turkish Tennis Federation to coach the Turkish Davis Cup team.
Ertunga played four years at UAB (1985-89). Twice he earned All-Sun Belt Conference honors, winning the No. 2 singles title as a freshman and No. 3 singles crown as a junior. As a senior under coach Derek Tarr, Ertunga posted an 18-6 record and was runner-up at No. 3 singles in the Sun Belt.
He played on the Satellite/Challenger circuit before returning to UAB to earn a master's degree in business administration in 1993.
Ertunga, 40, has one daughter, Erin (11) and resides in Birmingham. He was a member of the NCAA South Regional Selection Committee from 2000-03.