DII tennis: Togetherness helps the Barry women's team succeed
Some of the players on the Barry women’s tennis team are serious. Others show a funny side. And a couple of players are relaxed.
“But they mesh very well,” said Barry tennis coach Avi Kigel. “If you are around, you see everybody laughing and joking. It is a good atmosphere and that is very important.”
Of course, Kigel pointed out, talent is needed to accomplish the things Barry has done this season. The Buccaneers are 25-0, ranked No. 2 in the ITA Top 50 and earned the No. 1 seed in the South Regional.
Barry will put its perfect record on the line 3 p.m. ET Tuesday when it takes on the winner of the Valdosta State/Florida Southern match at the Buccaneer Tennis Center in Miami Shores, Florida. The winner advances to the Division II National Championship at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs, Florida, May 10-13.
“This team wants to win,” Kigel said. “We want to go all the way. We know the first step is to win regional. We are in a good place right now. Hopefully, we can play well and keep moving forward.”
The Buccaneers put themselves in this position because of talented players like junior Sonja Larsen, who is 23-0 in singles and 16-2 in doubles, playing with senior Ana Pain.
RELATED: Regional qualifying rankings
Larsen made first team All-Sunshine State Conference in singles along with sophomore Zuza Maciejewska. Larsen and Pain made first team in doubles. In addition, Dasha Salnikova was selected Freshman of the Year.
The players push each other in practice.
“We play matches against each other and they are always good matches, especially in doubles,” Larsen said. “My doubles partner, Ana Pain, helps me a lot and gives me advice in doubles. I can learn something from every player. It is a really good team atmosphere. Everybody is giving everything for each other, and that helps a lot.”
The team chemistry perhaps played a role in Barry beating Lynn 5-4 twice this season. The second victory came in the SSC championship match. Both times Larsen clinched the team victory with a win in singles. Also, when the two teams faced each other, Lynn was ranked second and Barry was ranked third.
Kigel, who was selected SSC Coach of the Year for the seventh time in nine years at Barry, said the Buccaneers have been working hard since the first day of practice three months ago.
“The atmosphere and the girls get along really well,” Kigel said. “It is one of the best teams we have had so far in that way. Those two things of working hard and enjoying each other I think are the X-factors in having a good rating.”
Playing good competition has also prepared the Buccaneers for the postseason. They have had 15 matches against teams ranked 26 and higher.
“We try to make a schedule as tough as possible so our players can be challenged on a regular basis,” Kigel said. “When we go into the postseason and the pressure is even higher, they have been in those situations and can draw from those experiences and hopefully play their best in those times. They have found a way to win in those tough situations.”
Anytime a team goes undefeated in the regular season, it has been a special year for the players.
“It is a really good feeling to go undefeated,” Larsen said. “Sometimes we were down in doubles and we had to come back and fight. Everybody gives their best on and off the court. It was a pretty amazing feeling.”
Lynn is also having a special season in women’s tennis
Behind the play of senior Rosalie Willig and junior Grace Mpassy, Lynn is 20-2, falling only to Barry twice. Willig and Mpassy both made first team All-SSC in singles and doubles. Willig went 15-0 in singles. In addition, senior Stefanie Stemmer and senior Diana Bogolii each made first team in doubles.
Because of the play of this veteran group, the Fighting Knights are playing host to the South Regional #2 and will take on the winner of the West Florida/Benedict match at 10 a.m. ET Tuesday at the Perper Tennis Complex.
BYU-Hawaii enters Division II Women’s Tennis Championships ranked No. 1
BYU-Hawaii is probably the hungriest team entering the postseason. Three times in the last five years, including last year, the Seasiders have finished national runner-up. Last year they lost to Armstrong State, which has won the last two national titles, beating Barry in 2015.
Like Barry, BYU-Hawaii has been perfect this season, compiling a 27-0 record. A little over a week ago, the Seasiders won their 11th straight PacWest title, beating Hawaii Pacific 5-1. The win advanced BYU-Hawaii to nationals at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs, Florida.
Some of the players who have propelled the Seasiders to No. 1 in the nation are senior Nannan Zhang, who is ranked No. 1 in singles, senior Xin Wen, who is ranked No. 5 and senior Min Liu, ranked eighth.