Paola Cigui is the first No. 1 player for CSU.
Columbus State Athletics

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It’s been tournament time for several weeks now in collegiate tennis, but the real battle begins Wednesday with the Round of 16 of the 2013 NCAA Division II Women’s Tennis Championship.

Surprise, Ariz., is the site, a northwest suburb of Phoenix that also serves as the spring-training headquarters for several Major League Baseball teams.

This week, the best teams will gather at the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex. Round of 16 matches begin Wednesday with eight teams opening their quests at 4 p.m. ET. The opposite half of the bracket follows at 7 p.m.

Four quarterfinal matches follow on Thursday, with the semifinals on Friday. The national title match is Saturday at noon. The NCAA championship round is hosted by the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission and Grand Canyon.

Two teams wear the biggest bulls-eyes -- top-ranked Barry, which won the 2011 title and is out for a second, and second-ranked Armstrong Atlantic State, the defending national champion.

Armstrong may be difficult to unseat. The Pirates are pursuing their sixth title in the last nine years, a run that includes three consecutive championships from 2008-2010 and the 2005 national title. Five players of its players are nationally ranked in singles play by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, led by junior Aleksandra Filipovski at No. 3. Sophmore Clara Perez  is ranked No. 8, Barbora Krtickova is No. 13, Marlen Hacke is No. 17 and Olga Kalodzitsa is No. 27.

In doubles, Armstrong claims two of the ITA’s top-five duos -- Filipovski and Krtickova at No. 2 and Hacke and Kalodzitsa at No. 5.

Barry counters with Elisabeth Abanda at No. 22 singles and Emma Onila at No. 30. The two also are the No. 8-ranked doubles team in the country. But, Barry’s top ranking on the eve of the Round of 16 means more than a mere numeral. It’s the first time in school history the women’s team has been ranked No. 1 prior to the championship matches.

“We're very excited to be ranked No. 1,” Barry women's head coach Avi Kigel said. “It's another stepping stone for us. It shows that we've been doing the right things.”

Barry (25-0) will first play 19th-ranked Midwestern State (17-6) on Wednesday, while Armstrong faces 43-ranked Northwood (21-1).

Third-ranked BYU Hawaii (25-1) faces 34th-ranked Northeastern State (23-2) on Wednesday. BYU Hawaii was the runner-up to Armstrong last year and in 2010. The Seasiders’ most recent title came in 2007, the last year of a dominating run that began in 1999 and included seven NCAA titles. Seniors Annie Hwang and Sherry Liu are ranked second and sixth, respectively, in singles and form the nation’s top-ranked DII doubles team, which could power the Seasiders to another high finish this season.

Fifth-ranked Abilene Christian (24-5) also plays on Wednesday against sixth-ranked Columbus State (22-3) in what could be a tight match. Columbus State junior Paola Cigui is the top-ranked DII singles player, a first for the school’s women’s team. She and senior Carolin Weikard are the third-ranked doubles team and a real force on the court.

The other matches of the day feature No. 13 West Florida (16-6) against 30th-ranked Drury (22-3), 29th-ranked Southwest Baptist (20-1) against 42nd-ranked Indiana (Pa.) (19-7) and fourth-ranked Hawaii Pacific (19-2) against 14th-ranked NYIT (23-3).

Ielysaveta Rybakova, the 12th-ranked singles player, leads Hawaii Pacific, while NYIT’s Nelly Ciolkowski ranks fourth in singles.