Wichita State dominates the Missouri Valley Conference in high profile sports such as basketball and baseball, but the Shockers’ success spans nearly all athletics, including tennis.
SIU women’s tennis has been competitive with WSU and in seven years under coach Audra Anderson, finished lower than fifth in conference and had back-to-back runner-up finishes.
The Salukis are 10-4 heading into conference play this week and won 10 straight matches until last week’s loss to No. 52 University of Illinois. Anderson said she doesn’t believe the loss will hurt her team going into conference.
“I think we have enough wins to give us confidence,” Anderson said. “The combination of wins and doing well against good teams will put you in a better position.”
The MVC has a nationally ranked team of its own in Wichita State, ranked 44 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. WSU, the defending MVC Champion, has an impressive 5-4 record against ranked teams.
The Shockers don’t start conference play until April but could be the favorites. Anderson said Wichita State will be tough but Drake University also has a contending team.
Drake University was ranked No. 72 this season and plays its conference opener against the University of Northern Iowa Sunday.
MVC play starts Wednesday with a matchup between Bradley University and Illinois State University in Bloomington.
The Braves were winless in conference play last year and have had a rough 2014. They have had a six-match losing streak this season and have just three wins.
Illinois State is 7-3 in their last 10 matches and has had a better start this spring. They finished third in conference in 2013.
SIU and Evansville also play Wednesday. Evansville, an annual cellar-dweller in the MVC, is playing well as of late and Anderson said SIU can’t take the Purple Aces for granted.
“You’ve got to watch out for them because I know they haven’t done well early on but they have been playing better,” Anderson said.
SIU will count on senior Anita Lee to ensure success. Lee said SIU is a young team but will be ready to compete in conference.
“Before the season we really didn’t have too many expectations,” Lee said. “Now, our team is getting a lot better and I think we can take home some titles.”
Freshman Meagan Monaghan is one of those young players. Playing No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles, a lot is expected out of her and she has posted a winning record in both flights so far this season.
Monaghan said there is added pressure in conference matches because this is her first year but she still has high expectations.
“In a regular match it isn’t like, ‘Oh, you’ll see these people again,’ so that adds pressure to it,” Monaghan said. “I would really like to be the Freshman of the MVC, so that’s my expectation.”
Drake (9-3) has the highest winning percentage in the MVC. SIU (10-4) is just behind and WSU (11-5) trails in third. UNI (9-6), after a seventh place finish last season, is in fourth and ISU (7-4) is fifth. Evansville and Bradley are each 3-8.
SIU went 6-1 in regular season conference matches last year, beating every team but WSU. The Salukis lost to the Shockers in the MVC Championships as well.
Anderson said winning a team title is the goal but having players named to the All-MVC team is another accomplishment the players strive for.
“We haven’t had an all-conference in a couple years and I think it’s a little bit tougher because it’s an evaluation of the whole season so you have to be consistent,” Anderson said. “That’s what they’re gearing for and they know where they’ve got to be.”
First serve for SIU versus Evansville is 2 p.m. Wednesday at University courts, weather permitting.
Tyler Davis can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @TDavis_DE or 536-3311 ext. 269