Barry not squeezed by expectations
No. 2 Buccaneers unbeaten after blanking first NCAA foes
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- They’re the defending Division II NCAA women’s tennis champions, undefeated and are making their third consecutive trip to the tournament.
|Barry advances to Round of 8|
|Day 1 Highlights|
Everyone has their eyes on the No. 2 Barry Buccaneers (25-0) as they’re one of the most formidable teams in Louisville.
Fourth-year coach Avi Kigel says despite being heralded as one of the toughest teams to beat, his team isn’t feeling pressure.
“Not really,” said Kigel, who was named the 2011 Intercollegiate Tennis Association Coach of the Year. “We’re just looking at one game at a time. There are a couple of other very strong teams that are also undefeated. We know it’s going to be tough.”
The Buccaneers gave an indication of their strength in Wednesday’s first round at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park, blanking the District of Columbia 5-0. Barry moves on to face California (Pa.) at 9 a.m. Thursday. The Bucs defeated the Vulcans 7-2 in March.
“The best part was being on the court and just playing,” Kigel said. “It’s been two weeks since the regional tournament, so we’ve just been practicing, but not actually playing matches.”
It seems everything has gone the Bucs’ way this season. They defeated another tennis powerhouse, Lynn, twice. They strolled to the Sunshine State Conference title – their sixth league crown – and sealed the South Region title when Tuskegee forfeited and Saint Leo fell 5-0.
Barry was tested against Hawaii-Pacific on March 9, pulling out a 5-4 win, and also played Saint Leo close early in the season in a 5-4 victory.
“You got to have a lot of luck as well [to stay undefeated],” Kigel said. “There were a couple of matches that we were very close to losing, and we were able to turn it around. We could easily be 25-2 instead of undefeated. It’s a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, and believing you can win every match.”
Barry is 14-0 against nationally ranked teams. The Bucs’ top asset is their singles play.
“We’re in great condition and we’re a really great singles team,” Kigel said. “When we come to singles, you’ve got to beat us. We never lose a match. That’s our biggest strength.”
Leading the way in singles is senior Caroline Wendling, who is 17-2 this year and three wins away from the school career victories mark of 73. Junior Cristina Valladares, ranked No. 12 at No. 1 singles with a 7-6 record, is ranked No. 15 at No. 1 doubles with sophomore Mona Mansour.
A rising young star for the Bucs is freshman Linda Fritschken, ranked No. 15 at No. 2 singles with a 12-1 record.
Senior Julie Stas, ranked No. 46 in the country at No. 3 singles with a record of 13-3, powered her way with teammate Olivia Matuszak to an 8-2 doubles victory Wednesday.
“I think we had great energy,” Stas said. “We’ve been waiting for this all season. When I looked at the singles for my team, I felt they were focused. I could see on every court they were doing their best to win their games.”
Stas, of Brussels Belgium, transferred to Berry after her freshman year at the Universite Libre De Bruxelles. She was ranked in the top five in Belgium’s club tennis ranks.
Stas, an international studies major, said the team’s key to success is focusing on the challenge at hand.
“People are looking at us, but at the same time, we don’t feel that much pressure,” Stas said. “Every year is different. We have a new team this year. We are as good as last year, so we definitely have a shot. We just go with the flow and see what happens.
“The key to being undefeated is to take every match step by step and to never think you’ve done it already. Just because you won 10 matches in a row, it’s not just going to keep going like that. You have to work harder to stay at the top. To arrive at the top is one thing, but to stay there, it’s even harder.”
Barry’s men’s and women’s golf teams are also competing in the Division II tournament. Kigel said it’s a benefit having teams from other sports along, and they all enjoyed the championships’ opening ceremonies.
“You can’t really predict what’s going to happen in the future, so we just look at it one match at a time, and hopefully keep moving forward,” Kigel said.