Playing six matches in nine days, women’s tennis overcame fatigue to get off to a perfect conference record over Spring Break.
In their first four conference victories, the Racers have dropped only one of 28 matches they have played so far. While the lone loss came from senior Carla Suga in the conference opener against Jacksonville State March 18, Head Coach Olga Elkin said there are still things to work on.
“We need to make sure that we stay mentally tough, because we have been playing really well lately,” Elkin said. “We need to just take it one match at a time.”
During its busy schedule, Murray State’s only loss as a team came against No. 47 University of Tennessee, where they were swept 7-0. Though they lost all their matches, many of them were close.
The closest match came at No. 3, where junior Andrea Eskauriatza and sophomore Erin Patton fell 8-6.
“The team and I love playing tough opponents because we have to play our absolute best to beat them,” Elkin said. “For our doubles to stick around with (Tennessee), it shows the improvement we have made.”
Facing the ranked team individually, the team got early success from Patton, who earned a 6-3 first set victory before momentum swung to her opponent and lost the final two sets 6-0.
Despite the losses, Elkin said the team took a step forward with its play.
“We all gained some confidence from those matches, especially (Eleonore Tchakarova) because she is a freshman,” Elkin said. We are going to have matches like this later on this season, so we learn from playing teams like (Tennessee).”
Freshman sisters Eleonore and Verginie Tchakarova were two of three Racers that played in every match during the break.
Elkin said she wanted to give the duo more experience that would help them when conference play arrives.
“They are getting more comfortable and they are playing better and better each match,” Elkin said. “They are freshmen and really need the experience for later in the season.”
As the only two freshmen on the team, the twins have improved in each match this spring. When the two sisters joined the team in the fall, Elkin said they needed to work on doubles. Now, six months later, the duo leads the team with 13 wins in doubles.
“It’s all thanks to (Elkin) because she taught us a lot of things about doubles that we didn’t really know,” Verginie said. “We knew that in America we would have to make changes and we have done it quite well.”
That success as a team has translated to their individual performances, where they are tied for the team lead with 16 wins. Verginie hasn’t had to play a three-set match since mid-October, and she has only two losses this spring.
The closest she came to going three sets in conference play was her first OVC match against Jacksonville State. In a back-and-forth match, Verginie was able to avoid a first set tiebreaker and won 7-5. With the confidence of winning her first set in OVC play, she settled down and won 6-4 to win the match.
“Everyone talks about conference and knows it is a big deal,” Elkin said. “It was their first match, and we hadn’t played in a couple of weeks, but she played great and pulled out a first win.”
Eleonore entered the spring as a nationally ranked player by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
Playing at No. 3 for the Racers against players with more experience hasn’t kept her from getting victories. While the matches may be difficult for Eleonore, Elkin is proud of the poise she has shown as a freshman.
“Every match she goes out there and competes,” Elkin said. “She likes playing girls that play that pace at that spot, so it was a natural fit for her at (No. 3).”
Just like her sister, Eleonore’s closest match was against the Gamecocks. After dropping the first set 6-4, Eleonore composed herself to win the next to sets 6-3, 6-1. Since that match, she has only lost seven games in six conference sets.
While the Racers are nearing the midpoint of their conference schedule, their final home matches are this weekend.
“We have a couple tough matches this weekend and then next week, too, but we just need to focus and play our match,” Elkin said. “We need to be focused on one game at a time.”
Murray State will host Southern Illinois University Edwardsville at 10 a.m. Saturday and Eastern Illinois at 10 a.m. Sunday.
Story by Tom Via, Staff writer