The SIU women’s tennis team enters its first match of the Missouri Valley Conference Championships against an opponent it has already beaten this season.
The MVC Championships start Friday in Omaha, Neb., as the Salukis face the Evansville Purple Aces. The Salukis defeated the Purple Aces 6-1 during their last meeting.
The Salukis entered the MVC Championships in a three-way tie with Illinois State and Drake. Based on a tiebreaker that factors in head-to-head play and overall match performances, the Salukis ended up with the fourth seed. After a 5-2 conference record and a 16-5 overall record, coach Audra Nothwehr said it doesn’t seem right to get the No. 4 seed after the tiebreaker.
“We’re not happy with it at all … I think that there are some things that need to change about the system, but it is what it is,” Nothwehr said.
Nothwehr said last week that it might be an advantage to face Wichita State in the semifinals instead of the finals.
Wichita State will face No. 8 Bradley to open the tournament. A Saluki win and a win by the Shockers could set up a semifinals matchup between the two at the championships. However, Nothwehr said the Salukis are focused on the Purple Aces first. She said she looks to veteran players such as juniors Melanie Delsart and Jennifer Dien to lead the team, which has no seniors and four freshman.
“The girls have really responded well after the loss against Illinois State. They’ve really stepped it up and increased their intensity in practice,” Nothwehr said. “We can really tell that everyone is extra focused and they’ve (the veteran players) been leading the way.”
In order to advance to the next round of the MVC Championships, junior Anastacia Simons said it is important to start the match with a win in doubles play, and confidence is high for the doubles pairs.
Simons and her partner, sophomore Anita Lee, have won two out of three matches, while No. 3 doubles pairing Delsart and partner sophomore Korey Love have won three matches in a row. Simons said she and Lee have the chemistry necessary to be successful during doubles.
That chemistry along with the experience gained throughout the season has confidence high, Simons said.
In singles play, Delsart leads the Saluki women as the No. 1 player. Delsart finished the regular season with a 16-5 record and an 8-2 record in her last 10 matches. Lee has compiled a 19-10 record between No. 2 and No. 3 singles, and freshman Ariadna Cairo Baza has a 16-6 singles record between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds.
As one of three juniors on the team, Delsart said she has advice for her younger teammates about tournament play.
“I just tell them to play their hardest every single point … there is a lot of pressure, but if they focus on themselves and leave everything on the court, that is good enough for all of us,” Delsart said.
The MCV Championships begin Friday at 9 a.m. and conclude Sunday.