Bill Zaima, UCLA's first women's tennis coach who served the team in different capacities for 40 years, died Thursday, Nov. 17, in Los Angeles due to illness. He was 69.
"Coach Zaima meant so much to me and my family," said current UCLA head coach Stella Sampras Webster. "He recruited me, coached me, was my boss and then worked with us for years as our volunteer assistant coach. He loved UCLA and was a true Bruin. I can't express how much he contributed to UCLA tennis, as well as personally to my tennis and life. Bill's passing is a great loss for all of us, and we will miss him immensely."
Zaima, an alumnus of the university, helped put UCLA women's tennis on the map, leading the squad to a 58-11 record in his first five years as head coach from 1972-76. He also led UCLA to its first conference title — in the Southern California Women's Intercollegiate Athletic Conference — in 1976. He left his head coaching role following the 1976 season to head up UCLA's Sunset Canyon Recreation Center, where he served as director from 1977-86.
During his time at Sunset Canyon, Zaima served as senior assistant coach for the women's tennis program under then-head coach Gayle Godwin. The two coaches had tremendous success together, helping the team to its first national championship in 1981 in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), followed by an NCAA runner-up finish in 1982. Godwin and Zaima also led the Bruins to a banner year in 1982, as the NCAA doubles final was an all-UCLA affair, with Heather Ludloff and Lynn Lewis beating teammates Kathy O'Brien and Helena Manset.
"My heart is heavy at the loss of one of the all-time great women's tennis coaches," said Kathrin Keil-Sieberth, who played No. 1 singles on the 1981 AIAW championship team. "Bill had such a profound impact on me not only as a player, but as a person. The lessons I learned from him are ones that I value and use today and also try to impart on my own children as a mom. It was my great honor and privilege to play for him as a UCLA Bruin and I will cherish all the wonderful memories we made."
Following the departure of Godwin during the 1986 season, Zaima began his second stint as head coach of the program, leading the Bruins once again from 1986-1996. He enjoyed even more success during his second time at the helm, helping UCLA to a pair of NCAA runner-up finishes in 1989 and 1991. In addition, Zaima was instrumental in helping UCLA to its second NCAA doubles title in 1988 when Sampras Webster and Allyson Cooper claimed the crown.
The 1995 season marked one of Zaima's crowning achievements, as junior Keri (Phebus) Olson would go on to sweep individual titles at the NCAA Championships. She is still the only Bruin player to win singles and doubles titles at the NCAAs.
"Bill Zaima was my advocate, my mentor, my coach, and my friend," said Olson. "He always made me feel like a champion (even on my worst days) and he always told me if I could imagine winning an NCAA championship, then I could achieve it. He had an unwavering belief in me that made me believe I could achieve anything I set my heart to. Heaven gained an angel, and Bill will be deeply missed by the Phebus family, the entire Bruin tennis family, and all who were incredibly blessed to know him."
Zaima retired from head coaching at the end of the 1996 season, paving the way for his protégé, Sampras Webster, to take over the program. Following a short time away from the courts, Zaima returned once again in 2000 to serve as Sampras Webster's volunteer assistant coach. He remained in that capacity until 2012.
With Zaima as volunteer assistant coach, UCLA would go on to win NCAA Championships in 2008, also notching three runner-up finishes in 2004, 2007 and 2012.
In 16 seasons as head coach at UCLA, Zaima compiled a record of 245-90 (.731). In 1991 he was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year and was a finalist for ITCA National Coach of the Year honors.
Zaima graduated from UCLA in 1969 with a degree in political science. He earned a M.S. degree in recreational administration from Cal State Los Angeles. He is survived by his wife, Carole, who is also a UCLA graduate and was a longtime employee of the university.