By Jonathon Zenk, NSU Sports Information Graduate Assistant
The Northwestern State tennis team gave a fitting homecourt farewell to its leader, Polina Mutel, as the Lady Demons were near perfect on Mutel’s Senior Day in a 7-0 Southland Conference victory Sunday over Incarnate Word at the Jack Fisher Tennis Complex.
Losing only one set, NSU (17-5 overall, 9-2 Southland) rebounded from a loss Friday in a conference championship match with Abilene Christian to earn its first sweep in conference play against short-handed UIW in the final regular-season contest of the spring.
The 17 regular season victories are tied for the second most in school history, and are the most in a season for the Lady Demons since winning the Southland regular season title in 2014. The nine conference wins are their best since 2015 when they also had nine.
“We played smart under tough, windy conditions,” head coach Patric DuBois said. “We kept things simple and remained patient.”
It was the 11th consecutive defeat for the Cardinals (4-15, 0-11), who have played much of the conference season with only five players.
Lady Demon redshirt freshman Rhea Verma finished a perfect 11-0 conference season with a 6-1, 6-3 victory at No. 2 against Sara Djurdjevic. Her unblemished Southland record is the first for the Lady Demons since Natalya Krutova finished 10-0 in 2015. She is tied with Ela Iwaniuk for the team lead in overall wins with 16.
Following her first defeat in conference action Friday, Iwaniuk rebounded in a big way with a 6-3, 6-3, win over Alejandra Landaluce at No. 4. With her 10-1 conference mark, she improved to a sparkling 19-3 in Southland play in her two years with the Lady Demons.
After an emotional Senior Day ceremony for Mutel, and with UIW having to default the No. 3 doubles match due to its roster shortage, NSU quickly clinched the doubles point with a win at No. 2 by Verma and Patrycja Polanska 6-3 to give the Lady Demons a 1-0 advantage.
In her last match at home, Mutel and partner Maria Skyba didn’t have to finish against Djurdjevic and Victoria Kareh at No. 1. Mutel sat out singles play.
“When we started to warm up, I was sad. I think I had tears while warming up,” Mutel said. “I am sad, but at the same time I am happy. I didn’t play singles (Sunday), but I am happy my team won. They made my day.”
Playing her four years at NSU has been a tremendous experience for the 2018 Southland Player of the Year, despite fighting a nagging injury this spring.
“The first word that comes to mind when describing NSU is family,” Mutel said. “I’ve met so many friends here, as well as my fiancée. I had a great experience here and I don’t want to leave. NSU is a great place and it has been one of the best experiences in my life.”
UIW’s default at No. 6 singles pushed the match score to 2-0.
Like Iwaniuk, freshman Antonia Blattner bounced back after she dropped two consecutive singles decisions to Stephen F. Austin and Abilene Christian. She dominated from start to finish against Taylor Parkinson, winning 6-1, 6-2 at No. 5 to give NSU a 3-0 lead.
Verma provided the clincher, closely followed by Iwaniuk’s victory, and it was 5-0 NSU.
Skyba was the only Lady Demon who dropped a set, losing 7-5 in the first to Victoria Kareh at No. 1, but Skyba battled back and dominated the second 6-1, and claimed the pro-set 10-6 to earn the sixth point for the Lady Demons.
In the longest match, Polanska provided the final point to cap the sweep. Polanska earned a hard-fought 7-5, 6-3 victory against Alejandra Tamayo at the No. 3 spot.
“We will work hard the next two weeks to improve in certain areas to be well-prepared for the Southland championships in Corpus Christi,” DuBois said.
Next up for the Lady Demons is the conference tournament in Corpus Christi, Texas, starting April 25.
Northwestern State 7, Incarnate Word 0
Women’s Tennis at Natchitoches, La. – (Jack Fisher Tennis Tennis Complex)
1. Maria Skyba (NSU) def. Victoria Kareh 5-7, 6-1, 10-6
2. Rhea Verma (NSU) def. Sara Djurdjevic 6-1, 6-3
3. Patrycja Polanska (NSU) def. Alejandra Tamayo 7-5, 6-3
4. Ela Iwaniuk (NSU) def. Alejandra Landaluce 6-3, 6-3
5. Antonia Blattner (NSU) def. Taylor Parkinson 6-1, 6-2
6. Judit Castillo Gargallo (NSU) def. No player, by default
1. Polina Mutel/Maria Skyba (NSU) vs. Sara Djurdjevic/Victoria Kareh unfinished
2. Patrycja Polanska/Rhea Verma (NSU) def. Alejandra Landaluce /Alejandra Tamayo 6-3
3. Ela Iwaniuk/Emilija Dancetovic (NSU) def. Taylor Parkinson/No player, by default
Northwestern State 17-5 overall, 9-2 Southland
Incarnate Word: 4-15 overall, 0-11 Southland
Order of finish: Doubles (3,2); Singles (6,5,2,4,1,3)
Photo Credit: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services