Photo by: Henoc Kivuye
The Eagles will hone their edge during a two-week break, following dominating victories in Arkansas.
The men’s tennis team swept two of their three matches last weekend, taking down Harding University 9-0 and Southeastern Oklahoma State University 7-0. Ouachita Baptist University put up a fight, but sophomore Nicolas Auruccio clinched the 5-4 victory for Oklahoma Christian University in three sets against Ouachita Baptist’s Teddy Anahel 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
The Lady Eagles tweaked their doubles lineups for the matches against Harding; junior and No. 1 Barbora Bozkova had never played with freshman and No. 2 Gisela Castany, but they ran away with an 8-2 victory.
“For us it was harder because we never practiced together, so the communication is bad – but we’re just going to have to practice more together and try to see how it goes,” Bozkova said. “I think it’s even better because right now we have one with two, three with four and five with six, so at least we have one or two doubles for sure.”
Initially an experiment to maximize team potential, assistant coach Maxim Salitra admitted they might have found a winner with the first attempted pairings.
“We just are trying different combinations to see what works best for the team and each spot; so far we’re pretty content with this combination,” Salitra said. “Great results this weekend, though, so nothing to complain about.”
Oklahoma Christian trumped the Harding Bisons 7-2, and the following day produced similar results in a 6-3 victory over University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
The men’s matchup against Harding continued freshman with the success Josip Smoljan and senior Paulo Roessle as a doubles team, as the duo remains undefeated so far this season.
“Paulo and me were searching for our game all of last semester during the practices, and we had some struggles in some of our matches,” Smoljan said. “But we pulled it out, and now against these other teams everything’s working out perfectly for us.”
The Eagles had come fresh off the team’s first loss in 10 and-a-half months, something Smoljan points to as a factor in the Eagles’ sweep.
“Everybody was focused because the week before that, we lost in a tight match against Tyler University,” Smoljan said. “So we were all focused and motivated, and we just got there to play our best, and it worked out for us. Everybody played great.”
Facing off against Ouachita Baptist, the Eagles led 2-1 after the doubles matches. The singles action proved difficult as the No. 1, 2 and 5 positions all went to three sets. Junior Bruno Tiberti and senior Martin Poboril both fell, but Auruccio’s mid-set turnaround lifted the Eagles to a 5-4 win. The next day the men swept the Southeastern Oklahoma State Savage Storm 7-0.
The Lady Eagles’ change in their doubles pairings paved the way for their 7-2 victory over the Bisons. Bozkova and Castany had difficulties initially, but continued to improve.
“The first match we were kind of lost,” Bozkova said. “But after like two or three games, we were already finding each other and we were better.”
Castany, who initially sought a Division I school, is finding a home in the Eagles’ tennis program — specifically in her paring with Bozkova.
“I think it’s good for me because this is my first year, and I have to learn a lot of tennis,” Castany said. “Especially doubles, and she can help me a lot because she is a junior and knows a lot of tennis. … she plays good, and I feel confident with her.”
The No. 1 doubles duo found a challenge in Arkansas-Fort Smith’s Amy Belanger and Madison Carr, but prevailed 8-4. Bozkova broke down the rest of the team’s performance and praised their continued growth.
“I think the other girls did a pretty good job; our number two had a tough match, but she did a great job, as well as our number three,” Bozkova said. “Our number six slid a bit behind, but I think it’s because she’s a freshman and probably a bit nervous, so I always tell her ‘just play your best, you have nothing to lose.’”
Salitra attributed the Lady Eagles’ preparation and conditioning to their 6-3 victory.
“Most matches, our level of talent – or I guess fitness – was way above our opponents, Fort Smith,” Salitra said. “So in most positions you could really see the difference; we made proper preparations for the start of the season, and you could really see that most of them were prepared and did a really good job of that.”
Salitra doesn’t view the remaining week of time off as detrimental to the Eagles’ performance.
“This is actually a really good time,” Salitra said. “We had two tough weekends of match play where we could see what works, what does not, so these fifteen days are actually a good time to work on things…we’ll work really hard to prepare them for spring break, where we’ll play really tough matches against really good teams – top Division II teams like Lynn [University] and Barry [University].”
The last time the Eagles squared off against the Division II powerhouses, they took two of their only three losses last season. Bozkova is looking ahead through the lull, seeking a strong season with a national title finish.
“It’s really tough because we just have to make sure we don’t rest a lot,” Bozkova said. ”We have to think about Abilene; if they have fifteen days off they won’t stop. They will always practice every single day. So we just have to stay 100 percent in all the practices … my dream is to leave from this school with a national title, and if it’s going to be this year or next year, I just want to get a good team and really try to win the nationals.”
The Eagles break back into the season March 2 against Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.