Bakersfield counts among its favorite sons a handful of Hall of Fame members.
Inducted into the country music temple are Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Frank Gifford is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame and quarterback Mike Moroski has a place in the Cal Aggie shrine.
Dennis Ralston, the brilliant 1960s tennis player by way of USC, is a 2007 entrant in USTA’s Southern California Hall of Fame.
And now Bakersfield has one more fella about whom to crow — UC Davis’ own Bill Maze, who next week is headed for induction into the USTA Northern California hall.
Maze enters his 20th season as Aggie women’s tennis coach this fall after captaining two NCAA championship net squads at Stanford, earning All-American honors and having a six-year career on the professional circuit.
Maze, 58, was the nation’s top-ranked 16-year-old player while at Miramonte High (Orinda). Later, during his college career, he and John McEnroe became a formidable doubles pairing, occasionally playing as a tandem during their pro days.
The affable Maze, who normally shuns the spotlight, took some time this week to talk tennis, reflect on his career and let us how he feels about induction into the United States Tennis Association Hall of Fame…
“It means a lot. You look at some of those names on the list and its pretty impressive,” he said. “A friend of mine sent me an email and said ‘Congratulations. Most of us work our whole lives and we don’t really get recognized for it.’
“I thought that was a really good point. Everybody should get something — because we’re all working so hard. I am honored.”
The ceremonies will take place next Thursday at Stanford during the Bank of the West Classic. Maze will be enshrined with 88-year-old USTA volunteer Bob Walsh, community college coach Rick Anderson, former Cal star and San Jose State coach John Hubbell and Susan Mehmedbasich Wright.
Wright was a former junior champion, who retired after a short pro career. Her competitive nature kicked in again at age 50 and she’s evolved into one of the top senior women players.
While Maze’s early success came as a player, for the past 25 years his focus has been coaching collegiate tennis, first at Pacific and the last two decades with the Aggies.
“(My induction) is becoming too big of a deal,” Maze said with a laugh. “I’ll be glad when it’s all over. I don’t want this much attention. But the ceremonies will be fun. I have a whole bunch of family and friends coming.”
On four occasions, Maze has been named his college conference’s coach of the year and was the pilot for the Aggie women’s tennis transition to Division I.
His team’s classroom achievements have earned NCAA Public Recognition Awards. Their academic progress rate has been a perfect 1.000 during those years.
So what does Maze see as the best part of coaching women’s tennis?
“Feeling like I can help. Getting to know the young women. … I know it sounds cheesy, but helping them with their lives a little bit: to be disciplined, have goals, work together and work hard,” the coach offers.
“Everyone says tennis is an individual sport, but not in college. It is a team sport, and I think our players get that.
“Creating an environment (the women) can thrive in. … I feel like (assistant coach Sara Jackson) and I have achieved that.”
Jackson will enter her 10th season with the Aggies.
UCD finished 12-10 last season with a terrific No. 1 player in Megan Heneghan.
Maze didn’t think last year’s team was as strong physically as some past teams, but because of chemistry and support for each other, “we overachieved.” Even though Heneghan graduated, the veteran coach believes that chemistry will continue in 2014-15: “That’s something you can’t really describe but it helps you be better as a team. I think we’ll have chemistry again. We’ll see.”
Growing up in Bakersfield, Maze came by tennis honestly. His dad George was a farmer who loved the game. Mom Sheila was a “pretty good player herself,” Maze told The Enterprise. “And there wasn’t a lot to do in Bakersfield in the ’60s.”
So, along with his older sister and brother, the Maze family would spend a lot of time at the tennis club.
“My dad would say, ‘Hey, wanna go look at the asparagus with me?’ and I’d say ‘Thanks anyway, just drop me off at the club’ … and I’d spend the whole day.”
And kids in Bakersfield had a hero to emulate — Dennis Ralston, often the top-ranked American player in those days.
From Bakersfield to Orinda and on to Stanford, Maze’s star continued to rise.
The natural progression included the professional tour, on which Maze spent six seasons globe-hopping.
In the old TV series “I Spy,” Robert Culp played a bon vivant tennis pro whose ports of call were the French Riviera, Tuscany and the exotic shores of the South Pacific. Wine, women, song, big tournaments, intrigue … surely, Maze’s time on the circuit was similar.
“Not quite,” reports Maze, again with chuckle. “It was fun to travel. If you had the right attitude, it was great. But it was tough. Money was an issue.”
Maze, who played in each of the Grand Slam tournaments, remembers getting $750 for his first-round exit in the 1980 U.S. Open.
Apparently you were born too soon, Bill. A first-round loser today pockets $30,000.
“But it was great. I got to go to Australia a bunch of times, Europe a bunch of times. Japan,” Maze recalls.
After his pro days, Maze taught at clubs. He bought a van and “drove around the country, trying to figure things out.”
In 1990, at the Carmel Valley Tennis Camp, former Stanford and then-current Pacific athletic director Ted Leland urged Maze to join Pacific as women’s tennis coach.
The rest of the story is that Hall of Fame-worthy career.
Notes: Maze’s 9-year-old daughter Stella brings him off-court joy. But pops sees the future: “Her ground strokes are pretty good already.” … Tickets for Maze’s Hall of Fame induction are available online at www.ustanorcal.com. … The worst part of coaching at UCD? “Ordering the clothing,” says the boss. “I leave that to Sara. She works with our captains on that. But seriously? I have a hard time coming up with an answer for ‘the worst part.’ ” Maze then alluded to a UOP mentor, former golf coach Glen Albaugh. “He said (as coach) you drive the bus, pick up the trash, wash the courts, you’re a psychologist, you’re a father figure and a mentor. That (advice) really helped me, and once I accepted that, I’ve enjoyed everything about the job … except for the clothing.” … On McEnroe: “He was an unbelievable talent from the beginning. A phenomenal player who could do anything from a light, feathery drop hit to the volley and serve.” In 2005 McEnroe played exhibition tennis at UCD, benefiting the opening of the Marya Welch Tennis Center.