Mutel is Southland Player of the Year, Iwaniuk named top newcomer

Northwestern State tennis standouts earned two of the four individual awards on the All-Southland Conference team announced Wednesday with junior Polina Mutel as Player of the Year and sophomore transfer Ela Iwaniuk chosen Newcomer of the Year.

In voting by the league’s coaches and sports information departments, Mutel and Iwaniuk also won first-team All-Southland singles honors while Mutel and senior Polina Ivanova were first-team in doubles. Sophomore Judit Castillo was a second-team all-conference singles pick and Ivanova received honorable mention recognition.

It’s only the second time in 31 years of Southland Conference membership that NSU competitors have won either Player of the Year or Newcomer of the Year. The only Lady Demon previously named Southland Player of the Year was Ljudmila Pavlov in 1994. More recently, Martina Rubesova claimed the Newcomer of the Year title in 2010.

Mutel’s dual first-team honors marks the ninth time this century, and the 14th time since NSU joined the Southland in 1987, that a Lady Demon has earned first-team status in singles and doubles on the annual All-Southland team.

The Lady Demons (14-8) begin play in the eight-team, single-elimination Southland Conference Tournament in Beaumont, Texas, Friday morning at 10 as the No. 3 seed facing Abilene Christian (13-8), which edged NSU 4-3 in Abilene on March 30.

Mutel, a native of Yaroslavl, Russia, was 16-4 overall in singles, and won All-Southland first-team honors with her 10-1 record at No. 1 in the league. She earned first team at No. 1 doubles with Ivanova after they were 10-0 in conference matches, 16-2 overall. In 2016 as a sophomore, Ivanova made the All-Southland second team at No. 1 doubles with Natalya Krutova.

“I am very happy for Polina Mutel to be recognized as the Southland Conference Player of the Year,” head coach Patric DuBois said. “What a great award and a tribute to how hard-working Polina is and how much she has improved.

“To go from playing No. 3 singles a season ago to playing No. 1 with a 10-1 record and No. 1 in doubles with a 10-0 record is simply an amazing improvement. This highest individual award in the conference is well-deserved by Polina, who has also played through injuries all year at this high level.”

Iwaniuk, 13-8 overall in singles, was 9-2 at No. 4 in the Southland. Transferring from the University of Tulsa, the Konarskie, Poland native has adjusted perfectly with the Lady Demons, also claiming a Player of the Week award in the eighth week of the regular season.

“I’m very proud of Ela Iwaniuk to be named the Southland Newcomer of the Year, “DuBois said. “She has been a tremendous teammate and has fit in since day one. She has steadily improved all year and played her best tennis during the conference season when it mattered most.

“Ela’s hard work, tenacity and ability to execute under pressure has earned her such an award,” he said.

Castillo, a Teruel, Spain native, is 13-4 overall in singles with a 9-2 Southland record at No. 5.

Ivanova, from Moscow, Russia, holds a 13-7 overall singles mark at No. 2. She went 9-2 in the Southland to earn honorable mention all-conference singles status coupled with her first-team honor in doubles.

Additionally, her career singles record of 54-26 places her ninth in Lady Demon singles wins. Friday’s conference tournament match will present the opportunity for her to move up to eighth.

“I am very proud of all the awards earned by each NSU tennis player,” DuBois added. “Each of the ladies works very hard each day on the court, in the weight room and in the classroom which makes awards such as these so special.

“In general, we have a young team, so to have four of six players recognized in singles and have the top doubles team in the Southland bodes well for our future in a very strong and competitive league. We have to continue working hard and improving each day to consistently compete at the high level required to be successful in this conference.”

This weekend, NSU is aiming for its third Southland Tournament championship of the decade and its seventh berth in the championship match since starting a remarkable run in 2010.

Photo Credit: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services