After dropping its first doubles point in conference play Saturday, women’s tennis kept its undefeated OVC record with a pair of wins over Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Eastern Illinois.
The matches served as the Racers’ final two matches at the Bennie Purcell Tennis Courts for this season, and senior Carla Suga was honored before the match Sunday.
Head Coach Olga Elkin said this weekend was important for the team’s upcoming road trip.
“We knew this weekend at home was going to be big, and we got the job done,” Elkin said. “Winning 7-0 (against Eastern Illinois) is a huge confidence boost for us going into a big weekend.”
While the Racers went 2-0 on the weekend, the matches were closer than the final score made them look. Suga, playing in her final four matches at home, said nerves got to her.
“There were a lot of nerves, but I just wanted to win for myself and the team,” she said.
After losing both of her matches on Saturday to SIUE, Suga and her doubles partner sophomore Megan Blue lost 8-3 to the Panthers Sunday.
Facing a possible winless senior day, Suga took her place at No. 2 singles. She won the first set easily 6-2 and seemed poised to salvage a win. Her opponent had other ideas, putting Suga behind 3-4 midway through the second set.
“I got tired in the second set and maybe mentally I got frustrated,” Suga said. “I had to calm myself during the set and pulled it out afterwards.”
Suga went on to win the final three games of the set to win her final match on the court she has called home for four years.
After playing the match, Suga said walking off the court was emotional.
“I can’t believe it, to be honest,” Suga said. “It is my fourth year, but it feels like I just got out here yesterday and was playing my first match.”
Elkin said that while the season isn’t over for Suga and her teammates, she is proud of all of Suga’s success.
“She is such a tremendous talent and has played really well for us,” Elkin said. “While I wish I could keep her around to play a few more years, I’m excited for her future.”
While Suga was able to pull out only a single victory on the weekend, junior Andrea Eskauriatza went undefeated.
“They were tougher matches compared to last week, and I was definitely tired,” Eskauriatza said. “Even though they look like easier matches based on the score, they could have been different if I had lost a few key points.”
Her closest match was against SIUE Saturday. After winning the first set 6-3, Eskauriatza had to battle back from behind to win the final two games of the second set 7-6.
Eskauriatza’s success wasn’t limited to singles, as she teamed up with sophomore Erin Patton in doubles. After beating SIUE 8-0 in No. 2 doubles, Elkin moved the duo up one spot against EIU.
“We have been doing great at doubles, Erin and I,” Eskauriatza said. “I feel like we can compete well at No. 1 and No. 2, and we’ll do whatever we have to for the better of the team.”
The move to the top spot didn’t stop the pair, as they grabbed an early 5-2 lead. Their opponents battled back to 5-4, but the Racers came back to win the final three games and the match 8-4.
The move to push Eskauriatza and Patton to No. 1 this weekend was only temporary according to Elkin, who said that freshmen sisters Eleonore and Verginie Tchakarova were moved down to keep up their confidence.
“We talk a lot about doubles, and it is our strength,” Elkin said. “The twins have done a great job at No. 1, but we moved them to get them some confidence for this weekend.”
This weekend the Racers head north to battle their stiffest competition of the season – Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky. The Racers and Colonels are both undefeated and atop the OVC standings, while the Eagles have one loss on the season. In the preseason, the Colonels were picked as the favorites to win the championship, so Elkin knows it will be a tough match.
“Eastern Kentucky is a tough place to play,” Elkin said. “The environment is loud, but my message to the team will be to stay focused on our own position.”
Eskauriatza said she is looking forward to the match against the undefeated Colonels and is confident in how her team will play.
“The match (against Eastern) will be a key one, and I haven’t played them before and don’t know what to expect,” Eskauriatza said. “I feel like we are strong in every position, and I will try my best to get the win.”
Women’s tennis plays Eastern at 10 a.m. Saturday and follows the match with Morehead State at 10 a.m. Sunday.
Story by Tom Via, Staff writer