Daily Egyptian

Salukis set to open MVC

By Tyler Davis

It has been nearly 30 years since SIU women’s tennis reigned supreme in the Missouri Valley Conference, but this week the team has a chance to return the hardware to Carbondale.

Friday marks the beginning of the MVC tournament. For SIU, the three-day event begins with a matchup against No. 7 seed Bradley University. The Salukis were 5-1 in the conference while the Braves went winless in MVC play during the regular season. SIU dominated Bradley in their only matchup, winning 7-0.

A year removed from a second place finish at the MVC tournament, SIU is the No. 2 seed this season.  Defending MVC champion Wichita State is the number No. 1 seed after their sixth straight undefeated conference season. Coach Audra Anderson said beating the Shockers is not just about overcoming a talent disparity.

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“With Wichita State, it’s not necessarily that they’re so impressive, it’s more of a strategy and how you play it,” Anderson said. “We didn’t play them the correct way in some of the matches but we’re keying in on the things we need to do.”

Wichita State has won five straight MVC Championships and seven of the last eight. They have not lost a match to an MVC opponent since 2008 when they were defeated by Indiana State University, the last team to win the MVC besides the Shockers.

The Shockers do not have to worry about the Sycamores as the school suspended its tennis program, according to the Indiana State website.

Freshman Meagan Monaghan said she believes the Salukis can take down the Shockers, but it’s about confidence and taking the tournament one match at time.

“We need to not make such a big deal that we are going to play Wichita,” Monaghan said. “Wichita is a strong team but we can beat them, we just need to go out there like we are playing another team.”

Anderson said the Salukis are more prepared coming into the MVC tournament because of the tougher opponents the team has faced this year. Although SIU went 0-5 versus schools ranked by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, Anderson said the matches were still positives for the team.

“I’m happy with our schedule, I’m happy with the way we’ve played against those teams,” Anderson said. “We didn’t come out with wins but we got some match wins here and there. I think we’re a better team because of it.”

The team will need all experience it can get in the competitive field. Behind the Shockers and Salukis are the third-seeded Drake Bulldogs (5-2 in MVC), the only other team with a winning record in MVC play.

The University of Northern Iowa, Illinois State University and the University of Evansville tied at 2-4 in the conference and are the fourth, fifth and sixth seeds respectively.

Anderson said Drake is a dark horse candidate to win the tournament. The middle of the Bulldogs lineup has been a key to their success. Their No. 3, sophomore Maddie Johnson, leads the MVC in winning percentage, posting a 16-2 record in the regular season.

Their No. 4, junior Nell Boyd, led all players at her slot in winning percentage as did No. 5, sophomore Jordan Eggleston.

Even with the impressive record, SIU still managed to take down Drake in a close match, 4-3, in the regular season. The match came down to the No. 6 singles as Gisela Cairo Baza secured the win for SIU.

Anderson said Drake and Illinois State will both tournament contenders.

“You always have to watch out for Drake; Drake’s had some good non-conference wins,” Anderson said. “Illinois State has had some bad luck. They’ve got some very good players so if they’re healthy, and have everyone in their lineup, they could take some matches away from Wichita.”

Anderson remained confident in her team’s chances to bring the MVC trophy back to Carbondale. To do so, the team will need their captain, No. 2 singles and half of the No. 2 doubles tandem senior Anita Lee, to pick up a couple more wins. Lee was 13-9 in singles and 12-4 in doubles during the regular season. Lee said she has seen the team grow during her four years and believes the team can take down the daunting Shockers.

“I think anything can happen and I would be excited to play Wichita in the final,” Lee said. “We have some players that can play really well so hopefully on that day they’ll come out swinging.

The Salukis open up against the Braves at 2 p.m. Friday in Normal. If they win, they play the winner of Drake versus Evansville. If they win two matches, they will move on to Sunday’s championship round.

The winner of the MVC earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship, May 15 to May 26 in Athens, Ga.

Tyler Davis can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @TDavis_DE, or at 539-3311.

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