Men’s and women’s tennis tournament rely on final matches
Senior Laura Fernandez of the women’s tennis team said she is disappointed with the way the Bulls’ season has unfolded, but declined to comment further. She put her hands on her face when asked about the hopes for playoff contention.
After making a tournament appearance in all three years during her tenure at Buffalo, the women’s tennis team may be on the brink of not qualifying for the first time in her college career.
The women’s (6-10, 2-4 Mid-American Conference) and men’s (9-9, 1-2 MAC) tennis teams still have a chance to qualify for the conference tournament, but both will have to win out in order to reach the postseason. The men must win its final two matches this weekend, while the women must win against Northern Illinois (11-7, 2-4 MAC) Saturday, in order to make the tournament.
Only the top-6 women’s teams are invited to the MAC tournament to compete for the conference championship. There are only six men’s teams in the MAC and the top-4 teams make the tournament.
Women’s head coach Kristen Maines acknowledged this season was subpar compared to previous years, but said the team has grown a lot this season.
“They’ve done a great job with their maturity on the court for being such a young team,” Maines said. “It’s tough having a young team. It’s a building and growing year. I just wish we had more time in the season to let their hard work show.”
Buffalo only has one senior on the team – Fernandez.
Freshman Tanja Stojanovska impressed Maines with her growth this season. Maines said Stojanovska worked on her mentality throughout the season, especially when she beat a fellow freshman Olivia Myers at Western Michigan on April 5. She currently has a 20-8 record in singles play.
Earlier this month, Buffalo’s matchup against Ball State (13-4, 3-2 MAC) was canceled due to a non-essential, state-funded travel ban to Indiana in response to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The game was never rescheduled, but Maines doesn’t believe there will be any consequences for not playing the conference opponent.
“It's unfortunate that we weren't able to play, but hopefully that’s not going to affect the tournament in any way,” Maines said. “I’m sure the conference will come to a fair outcome for all parties involved. We have the support of the conference to not travel to Ball State, so I don't think that will hurt either of us.”
As of Friday, the conference has not come to a conclusive proposition regarding the match.
Maines said the team is putting hours in at the court in preparation and is trying to keep their mentality high. The Bulls will play Northern Illinois in Akron, Ohio on Saturday for their final match of the regular season, which is set to begin at 1 p.m.
The men’s team is preparing the same way, but is in a different situation than the women’s squad. The Bulls are one loss away from elimination and still have two games to play.
But senior Sebastian Ionescu said the team is right where it should be at this time and that his team has played with intensity for the entire season.
“We won the matches where we should have won and lost the matches where we were underdogs,” Ionescu said. “We don’t play tennis because we have to. We play because we love the game and we play for our teammates – we embrace it … We have tough moments, but we embrace those times. We don’t complain and we play with our hearts.”
After starting the season 8-3, Buffalo went on a six-game losing streak. Head coach Lee Nickell said it was because the road schedule was incredibly difficult. The Bulls played four nationally-ranked teams in Harvard, Princeton, Cornell and Brown during the losing streak. Nickell said he hopes the team learns when they compete against teams that are “a little better than we are.”
“Those were really tough matches,” Nickell said. “We had to go straight from Harvard to playing Binghamton and Western Michigan on the road and that’s just the way the schedule worked out. I think that we expected to have a few more wins but we've faced a lot of adversity with our road schedule.”
Buffalo ended its losing streak last weekend when it defeated Toledo (11-15, 1-3 MAC) on the road. Ionescu said the victory allowed the Bulls to “bounce back” and that they are now ready to put themselves in a position to be a force at home.
The Bulls play reigning MAC champion Ball State (12-9, 2-1 MAC) this Friday at the Miller Tennis Center. It will be Buffalo’s first home match in almost two months.
At the MAC tournament last year, Buffalo lost in the championship match to Ball State. His goal this Friday is to see how many people can attend the match.
“We’ve spent the past year promoting the match,” Nickell said. “Assistant coach Jason Shkodnik has done an amazing job trying to tell everyone about this game.”
The game will begin at 12:30 p.m at the Miller Tennis Center and is scheduled to be played outside – weather permitting. The match will be played inside at 1 p.m. if the weather is bad. The final game of the men’s season will be against conference-leader Northern Illinois (17-5, 3-1 MAC) on Sunday.
With the season depending on the final two games, Ionescu said the team is “pumped” and ready to finish with its best effort.
“I'd say we didn't expect to be in this position,” Nickell said. “But I still believe this is the best team we've ever had and it's time for us to show that. Our expectation is to win the MAC title and we still have that opportunity.”
Bobby Mcintosh is an Asst. Sports Editor and can be reached at email@example.com