In the first two-match weekend of the season, women’s tennis suffered its first losses of the spring to No. 33 Memphis and Chattanooga.
While the Racers’ spring season record fell to 2-2, Head Coach Olga Elkins believes these matches show how good her team can be.
“The girls did well and we lost a couple of close matches, but it was great to see that we can compete with ranked teams,” Elkin said.
The week began with the Racers selected as the preseason No. 2 in the OVC based on votes by the conference’s head coaches. Murray State earned one first-place vote and was behind defending champion Eastern Kentucky.
“It’s great to get the recognition and place higher than we finished last season,” Elkin said. “We are excited that the coaches can see that we are improving.”
The Racers had two players earn the preseason top 10 list. Senior Carla Suga was voted No. 2 after finishing last season 9-1 in OVC play, while junior Andrea Eskauriatza, in her first spring, was voted No. 9. Eskauriatza was the only newcomer in the preseason voting.
“Being the only newcomer on the list shows that Andrea has done well in her matches so far,” Elkin said.
Eskauriatza said she was glad to receive the honor from the coaches, but she said she knows it is before conference play has begun.
“It is nice to know they recognized me before they have even seen me play,” Eskauriatza said. “It’s not that important to me because I haven’t gotten the results in conference to back that up yet.”
Elkin said the team knew about the preseason poll when it was announced and will use it for motivation.
While the team may have used motivation from the ranking in the Feb. 7 match against Memphis, it didn’t win a single match against the Tigers.
After dropping the doubles point to Memphis, the Racers got great play in the matches from Eskauriatza and freshman Eleonore Tchakarova.
Eskauriatza said it was the best match she has played in her career, even though it came in a losing effort. The match began with Eskauriatza battling and falling in the first set 6-3.
“She was playing really fast and at a different speed and it was hard for me to keep up,” Eskauriatza said.
After winning the second set 6-4, Eskauriatza jumped out to a 7-3 lead in the tiebreaker. However, her opponent rallied and won the match with seven straight points.
“I was up huge and normally when you are up that big, your opponent gets nervous and I was expecting that,” Eskauriatza said. “She didn’t and she seemed to just not miss again.”
In Tchakarova’s match, she faced the toughest competition of the season. While she lost 6-4, 6-2, Elkin said it is important for her freshman to gain confidence against the tough opposition.
After the losses, Elkin spoke with her team and told them to focus on the matches ahead.
“I sat them down and told them to focus on what we had accomplished against Memphis and all the good things,” Elkin said. “We were able to use that and be ready to go and take on Chattanooga.”
The Racers opened strong against Chattanooga, winning the doubles point as Eskauriatza and sophomore Erin Patton won 6-0.
The Racers’ only singles victory came from Eskauriatza in a 6-3, 6-4 win.
“It was good to get back onto the courts after losing to erase what had happened,” Eskauriatza said. “I had played a great match and just continued to play great the following day.”
The Racers continue with two matches in two days as the conference portion of the schedule draws near. Elkin said the schedule is set up so the team is physically prepared for four matches in a short period of time.
“There could be a day where a girl could go the full three sets in two days and we need to be prepared for that,” Elkin said.
The Racers return to action Saturday against Central Arkansas at Kenlake State Park before traveling Sunday to Southern Illinois.
Story by Tom Via, Staff writer