Playing for each other
Columbus State's diverse bunch ready for Round of 16
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The discussion was black or blue, as in colors of shirts and shorts for Wednesday’s Round of 16 matches in the NCAA Division II Women’s Tennis Championship.
It came following Tuesday’s practice at the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex in suburban Phoenix, and Columbus State head coach Evan Isaacs wisely abstained.
“They’re selecting the clothing,” Isaacs said of his sixth-ranked Lady Cougars.
Depending how Wednesday’s match against fifth-ranked Abilene Christian unfolds, it could be their easiest or most difficult decision. The Columbus State-Abilene Christian match is one of four scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday and, on paper, might be the tightest tilt. The other half of the women’s bracket kicks off at 4 p.m. ET.
Top-ranked Barry and second-ranked Armstrong Atlantic each play early matches against their respective opponents. If victorious, they’ll face off in Thursday’s quarterfinals, which could open a door for other top-ranked teams. But, what-ifs don’t count, yet.
Columbus State and Abilene Christian last met in April 2011.
“I heard we lost 6-3, but I think we’ve gotten much better,” said junior All-American Paola Cigui, not yet a Lady Cougar at the time. “I think we can do it.”
Expect Cigui -- the nation’s top-ranked singles player according to the International Tennis Association’s latest DII rankings -- to be a factor. She and senior Carolin Weikard (ranked No. 7 in singles) also form the ITA’s third-ranked doubles team.
“Every one of us is giving 100 percent on the court and we can trust each other knowing that every single person is going to fight,” Cigui said. “And every one of us wants to do great, so that’s the good thing -- great thing.”
|Olivera Jokic||Serbia||"Idemo Cougars!"|
|Renata Paiva||Brazil||"Vamos Cougars!"|
|Carolin Weikard||Germany||"Auf Geht's Cougars!"|
|Andrea Redrado||Spain||"Vamos Cougars!"|
|Laura Chapman||U.S.||"Go Cougars!"|
|Paola Cigui||Italy||"Andiamo Cougars!"|
Isaacs, a former Columbus State player now in his 11th season as head coach, has taken the Lady Cougars to the NCAA tournament in each of those seasons. This is the second time they’ve reached the Round of 16 (the first was 2005). Columbus State enters Wednesday’s matches with a 22-3 record. Two of the losses were to perennial Peach Belt Conference rival Armstrong Atlantic in the regular season and in the PBC tournament final. Columbus State’s other loss was to third-ranked BYU Hawaii in March.
“They’re special,” Isaacs said of his team. “We’ve had some good matches this year, we’ve fought hard. They can go as far as they want to do. They’ve played the top teams in the country. We’ve played them close. This is the week that you should be peaking for playing your best tennis. Every day we try to get better.”
“It’s going to be a big match, but I know that all of us, we’re in it together and we’re going to go out there and we’re going to fight together as a team,” said sophomore Laura Chapman, whose Southeast Regional victory at No. 4 singles against Francis Marion catapulted Columbus State into the Round of 16. “Paola [Cigui] always says in doubles when she plays with Carolin [Weikard] ‘I’m going to hit this shot for Carolin, I’m going to hit this shot for me.’ We do it for each other because we love each other.”
Like many DII tennis teams, Columbus State players hail from all over the world. The six Lady Cougars represent six countries -- Cigui from Italy, Weikard from Germany, senior Andrea Redrado from Spain, senior Renata Paiva from Brazil, junior Olivera Jokic from Serbia and Chapman from Columbus, Ga.
“Every one of us is so different, but at the same time we are so bound to each other and connected,” Cigui said. “And I’m pretty sure when we are going to change the team, we are going to miss each other so much.”
Isaacs admits the 2013 Lady Cougars are special no matter what happens this week.
“They’ve pushed each other, they’ve sacrificed so much,” Isaacs said. “I’ve said it all year. This is my favorite and special team I’ve ever had. It’s fun to be around them and I just hope it doesn’t end.”