The Lynn women’s tennis team has long been one of the finest in Division II. Ranked No. 3 in the November Intercollegiate Tennis Rankings for the spring season, the Fighting Knights immediately put their meddle to the test.
They opened their 2017 spring schedule with three matches against top-15 opponents in a two-week span.
They rose victorious all three times.
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Head coach Mike Perez has five of his six starters returning from last season’s Sunshine State Conference championship squad. The Fighting Knights posted a 22-4 record last spring. They ended Barry’s run of six straight SSC tournament titles behind a 5-3 victory en route to Lynn’s 10th tournament championship since 1999.
"Having five players returning from last season's SSC championship team and defeating Barry three times in one season gives us some confidence," Perez said. "Barry has brought in numerous new players with many years of experience on the WTA tour. Playing in the professional Bundisliga in Germany certainly makes Barry the team to beat this year."
Two of those returning starters make up the the No. 1 ranked doubles team in Division II. Seniors Diana Bogolii and Rosalie Willig have yet to lose this season. In fact, not many Fighting Knights have lost at all yet this spring.
"There is no doubt that having Diana and Rosalie at the top of the doubles lineup gives our coaching staff and team confidence," Perez said. "We always have a chance for a point at one. Rosie and Diana have deserved their numerous titles and are always looking to improve."
Lynn has started off the season 5-0. It hasn't simply won but has done so in dominating fashion behind a combined score of 34-4. Three of those victories came against top-ranked opponents: No. 14 Valdosta State (8-1), No. 8 Columbus State (5-0) and most recently the defending national champion Armstrong State Pirates.
"We have had a nice start of the season," Perez said. "Nevertheless, we certainly have much room for improvement in many areas of our game. We continue to get stronger, smarter and fitter for this long season."
The No. 1 ranked Armstrong State has been an obstacle to Lynn of late. The Pirates ended Lynn's past two seasons prematurely in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament.
This past Saturday, Lynn downed the top ranked team in DII, defeating Armstrong State 5-1 on their home court. It was a feat that no one had accomplished since March 13, 2003. Armstrong had held court for 14 straight seasons and 167 consecutive matches, one of the more dominating runs in any division of women's tennis. Lynn brought that streak to an end behind an impressive 5-1 victory.
“The team has worked hard in the past weeks to be ready for the match with Armstrong State. We were pumped and ready to give our best to beat the No. 1 team in the country,” senior Rosalie Willig said. “Beating them on their home court is a great addition to the win. Losing the last two years against Armstrong gave us the extra motivation and fire to play our maximum and to get our little revenge.”
"Defeating Armstrong last week at their home courts is certainly a stepping stone for our ultimate goal of a national championship," Perez added. "Saying that, it is a long season. It's not how you start the race, it's about how you finish."
That day, Willig and Bogolii had a daunting task. They took on the No. 2 doubles tandem in DII in Lena Lutzeier and Diana Stromelga. The hard-fought battle set the tone for Lynn’s huge victory, as the Fighting Knights' top-ranked duo walked away victorious 8-6.“Diana and I are playing our second season together, having two national titles on our shoulders," Willig said. "Each match we are getting more comfortable and used to our situation of being top-ranked in doubles. We know that the other teams will try everything to beat us, but we are both experienced enough to handle the pressure. We are together on the court and help each other out in difficult moments.”
Lynn returns to their Boca Raton, Florida, home this week after three straight matches on the road. They open the SSC slate of their schedule on Thursday. Embry-Riddle and Palm Beach Atlantic will be their first tests of their conference title defense.
This team — one full of veteran leadership — has loftier goals for 2017.
“Every season is a new opportunity to bring home a national championship and that is exactly our goal for this season,” Willig said. “Our daily work and effort are based on giving each match the best we can to get closer to our goal, including defending the SSC title. We are an experienced team with great and skilled individuals on each position. We are definitely ready to compete for the national championship and to bring back the trophy to our program. And for me personally, there wouldn't be a better ending of my college career.