SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Barry University's No. 1-ranked women's tennis team will play No. 19 Midwestern State at 4 p.m. EST Wednesday in the NCAA Division II National Championships Round of 16 at Surprise Tennis & Racquet Center.
"I feel like as it gets closer to the tournament, we are getting focused and more excited," junior Akemi Maehama said. "And we get closer as a team to take care of each other."
Barry (26-0) took care of business to reach the site of the national finals for the 18th time in school history. Wednesday's match against Midwestern State (17-6) marks the first time the two schools will have met since the Bucs beat the Mustangs, 5-0, in the 2005 NCAA Championships Round of 16.
"Other teams need to know that we are willing to do whatever it takes to win," freshman Karina Goia said.
The Bucs won the 2011 national championship. They advanced to the national semifinals a year ago.
"Our record shows a really good side of us, but it doesn't mean everything," Maehama said. "We have to focus day by day. We have to focus on each match. I'm really excited, but I have to keep my feet on the earth so I can focus on my matches."
This is the first year Barry has been ranked No. 1 in the country prior to the national championships.
"It means a lot, and it's a really big accomplishment for all of us," Maehama said. "At the end of the day, though, it doesn't really matter what ranking you have. You just have to win."
Maehama is the lone returner from the 2011 NCAA Championship team, so she understands as well as anyone the magnitude of the remaining journey. On a team with just seven players, her words and leadership carry plenty of weight.
"I want them to know every single match counts, that everybody counts," Maehama said. "We have to give everything we have each day. This is it. This is the last tournament of the year. You don't get the opportunity to perform again this year.
"It's such a small team, but we have so much energy. The ceiling can't hold us. This is our moment. We will fight 'till it's over."