Two championships later

Women’s tennis refocuses after tough loss

tennis

The UB women’s tennis team has won back-to-back Mid-American Conference Championships and made it to the finals in the past three years. 

The women are coming off a 6-1 loss to West Virginia at home this past weekend. It was a rare loss and one that made them have to reconsider their reasoning for competing. Buffalo won all three doubles matches and then lost every singles match. 

That doesn’t happen very often.

“Last year was 70 and sunny, this year is different,” associate head coach Smaranda McNerney said during a 45-minute team meeting, immediately following Saturday’s match.

Buffalo is a veteran team with four seniors and two juniors making up the 10-person roster. The seniors on the team have made the MAC tournament finals each of their years here and have repeated the term “three peat” in anticipation of this year’s success.

Buffalo is 6-2 on the season but the loss to West Virginia triggers alarms as they only lost 4-3 to them last season in Morgantown and are 2-5 against them all time. The last win against West Virginia came during the 2013-14 season.

Head coach Kristen Maines has been at UB since the 2012-13 season, taking over for current senior associate athletic director Kathy Twist. Twist coached women’s tennis for 16 seasons and is the winningest coach in program history with 136 wins.

Maines is on her way to catching her.

“It hasn’t been my end goal to leave UB,” Maines said. “I haven’t used it as a stepping stone. There’s been opportunities, but my choice is to be here and to make this the best program and create a culture and leave a legacy of excellence.”

Maines has spent her whole life in Buffalo and around the UB campus. She graduated from Amherst High School in 2002 before enrolling at Buffalo that fall. Maines played tennis for UB from 2002-06.

Maines said the team was “not good” when she first arrived in Buffalo. They finished 6-14 overall and 0-9 in MAC play in her first season playing. The Bulls improved slightly during her second year to 8-11 and 1-8 in the MAC.

Maines never received the satisfaction and enjoyment of a MAC Championship while being a player here. Still, at the time of graduation, Maines had the school record for most career singles and doubles wins. Current player senior Chantal Martinez-Blanco has since passed her in both categories.

“The fact that I got here and was able to win one [championship] was already a huge accomplishment,” Martinez-Blanco said. “So to win two was even better and now to try to win a third time would be remarkable. That’s why I fight every day.”

Martinez Blaco plays on first singles and first doubles with freshman Nikoleta Antoniou-Karademitrou. Antoniou-Karademitrou will be critical to continuing the success of the program. The Tennis Recruiting Network has the Bulls ranked as the sixth-best recruiting class among Mid-Majors this year.

“You have to motivate the freshmen because they will not know what the team chemistry is,” junior Emel Abibula said. “They don’t know what the culture of the team is. By the time my last semester comes, they will have adjusted and have their ‘why’ and fight for every point.”

Maines said that she used to joke with recruits that Buffalo is a tennis and basketball school. The Bulls are encouraged by the recent success of football and the ability to add another layer of recognition to the school and team.

The future of women’s tennis, with Maines, could include more than a three peat of championships.

“I’m still young enough in my career that we can leave a legacy here,” Maines said. “We can leave a stamp with UB tennis being a powerhouse. I mean I remember when I was an undergrad that was Marshall and then when they left it was Western Michigan. It's not fun to be one and done and you have to continually win to leave a legacy.”

 

Nathaniel Mendelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at nathaniel.mendelson@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @NateMendelson.

NATHANIEL MENDELSON


 Nathaniel Mendelson has been writing for The Spectrum since 2018, mainly covering football, men's basketball and softball. He currently works for The Buffalo News and has a daily article on buffalobills.com. Other responsibilities include managing the office fish tank.