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UB Women’s Tennis return to the NCAA Tournament after nine year hiatus

Bulls look to upset third seeded Ohio State

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For the UB women’s tennis team, there is nothing to lose.

The Bulls started their season off poorly, losing three straight games. But they haven’t lost since April 7.

The Bulls are heading to Columbus, Ohio to square off against the third seed Ohio State Buckeyes, and are looking to prove they belong. On March 13, they will have that opportunity, lead by Chantal Martinez-Blanco.

“They are the number three seed, we are the underdogs,” Martinez-Blanco said. “We have nothing to lose. We are just going to give it our all and see what happens.”

Martinez-Blanco’s progression throughout the season, both physically and mentally, mirrored the Bulls’ season. The competition, the effort put into practice and confidence allowed the Bulls to adjust to a winning path that would prolong their season.

“We stayed calm,” Martinez Blanco said. “We knew the process was going to give us the results we wanted so in the fourth match, we literally brought the ship around.”

The Bulls haven’t had the chance to compete in the big dance since the 2007-2008 season. Freshman Emel Abibula was a surprising bright spot this year, having lost only one match all year. Abibula only wants to prove herself at the tournament.

“We worked a lot so I think we have chances to prove that we are good players,” Abibula said. “We won’t focus on the result. We are going to be focused on the process. By focusing on little steps and have a goal every match and every time we step on the court.”

The Bulls’ presence at the tournament is an incredible feat that can only be topped by winning. Abibula is aware of that and looks forward to the credence a win would bring.

“I won’t focus on winning,” Abibula said. “But it would be a very, very good thing, it would raise up my confidence from one to 100.”

Regardless of the outcome of the tournament, head coach Kristen Maines believes this season to be a success. The MAC tournament win was a step in the right direction for a team that faced early adversity.

Early in the season, assistant coach Smaranda Stan took the reins of the team as Maines went on maternity leave, pushing the Bulls to become closer as a team, supporting one another.

“She made us get closer to each other,” Abibula said. “She would punish one part of the team, but then we had to prove that we care about each other, so we [the whole team] would all run together or do stuff together.”

Maines is prepared to use this season to help motivate the Bulls in the future.

“I want them to use it as building blocks for ‘we want to be here every single year,’” Maines said. “I want to go for consistency now. We have been consistently good, but I want this to be their expectation of ‘I want to be here every year.”

Maines knows when facing a powerhouse such as Ohio State, the only way for the team to be confident is to stay focused and take this as an experience to compete at the highest of levels in college tennis.

“All the pressure is on Ohio State,” Maines said. “We have zero pressure, we have nothing to lose. Go out there and swing free. Play your game, go after it and enjoy the moment.”

Jeremy Torres is a staff writer and can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com


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