WINTER PARK, Fla. – Barry University women’s tennis team won its league-record fifth straight Sunshine State Conference Tournament title Saturday, beating Saint Leo, 5-0, at Rollins College.
No. 1-ranked Barry bumped its overall record to 23-1 this season, while the No. 7 Lions fell to 19-5. The Buccaneers are expected to host one of two NCAA Division II South Regionals at Buccaneer Tennis Center next weekend.
In another opportunity where the Buccaneers have grown accustomed to this idea of taking charge from the get-go, Barry didn’t disappoint.
“All three doubles started with really good energy,” Bucs assistant coach Maria Lopez said. “All the hard work that’s been put in all throughout the season is really showing up. The three pairs that we have now are communicating well, they’re aggressive, they’re taking charge at the net, which is what we’ve been working on throughout the season – to be more aggressive. Against the top teams, that’s what we need to do. It’s really good to watch them do that during pressure points. The best teams are going to be able to do that.”
Barry’s No. 3 doubles team of Karina Goia and Blanka Szavay secured the first point with an impressive 8-1 win over Maria Benkirane and Adrianna Daszkiewicz. Sixth-ranked Emma Onila and Linda Fritschken found themselves entangled in the toughest pairs match of the day, but prevailed 8-5 over Laura Kemkes and Anastasia Wagner at No. 2 for the Bucs’ second win.
Fritschken and Onila dropped two of the first three games before settling in to take control of the match. Dynamite in the fall, the Bucs pair went through a hiccup midway through the spring when Onila was sidelined for two weeks. Now they’ve reconnected, winning eight straight matches.
“It was a little bit difficult for us when I had a different doubles partner,” Fritschken confessed. “Now I’m so happy she’s back because I’m so comfortable with her. In the fall, we played so many matches together. I missed the routine (after Emma got hurt). I didn’t really know what to expect, especially when the match became tied.”
There were no deadlocks in crunch time to speak of on this day. Not for any of the Bucs pairs teams. No. 25-ranked Kimmy Twelker and Ana Pain made sure of that at the top flight when they gave Barry a 3-0 lead entering singles play, following an 8-3 win over Coralie Pesenti and Paula Montoya.
“We were excited to see how the doubles were going to play out,” Lopez said. “The girls came out with a lot of energy, and it definitely showed today. They showed that they wanted to win the conference championship.
“It’s exciting. It’s good for Barry and the program, and for the girls to know that they’re making a little bit of history. They want to take on those challenges. They like the pressure, and we’re happy to see that.”
Onila was flawless in singles, ripping through a 6-0, 6-0 sweep of Pesenti at No. 1 to move Barry within a point of making history. Twelker sealed it, continuing her impressive display of tennis in winning her 12th straight match with a 6-2, 6-1 verdict over Daszkiewicz at No. 6.
“This season she’s much stronger, she’s much tougher,” Fritschken said of Twelker. “I think she’s found her game.”
Onila won her first match since the end of March – this one her most dominant of the season.
“When she first played, you couldn’t really tell she was out for a couple of weeks,” Fritschken said. “She’s on her way.”
Fritschken endured the toughest singles match of the day. Ranked No. 43 in the country, Fritschken led the 47th-ranked Wagner, 6-3, 2-1, before the match was halted when the Bucs picked up the title-clinching fifth point.
“Right now, I feel I’m in good shape,” said Fritschken, who needed three sets to beat Wagner two months earlier. “I feel confident about my game. She has a game that I like to play against. I played smart.
“I like the end of the season because now it becomes so tough. Every match counts. It’s a big motivation for me.”
Fritschken ran off 18 straight victories to end last season.
The Bucs led in two other singles matches as Goia and Pain were each up a set at the Nos. 2 and 4 spots, respectively. Barry’s Elisabeth Abanda was playing for set point in the first at No. 5 when the match ended.
Szavay returned to the doubles lineup for the first time in a month this weekend. Paired with Goia for the first time since the season opener on Feb. 8 when the Bucs duo won, 8-3, Szavay helped notch three straight matches in even more efficient fashion. Szavay and Goia’s toughest match in the three-day stay in the Orlando area was an 8-2 victory in Friday’s semifinals.
“She’s a very solid player in doubles,” Fritschken said of Szavay. “I think she’s a perfect partner for Karina. I think they make a really tough third doubles team. It makes the rest of us more confident, knowing the two of them are together.”
Winning five straight league tourney titles was a quest the Buccaneers targeted weeks before making the three-and-a-half-hour trek to central Florida. Now the likely reward is a week at home on the friendly confines of Buccaneer Tennis Center as the academic semester comes to a close and tennis’ pinnacle begins.
The tournament title was Barry's eighth overall.
“It feels good, and we’re very proud of our accomplishment,” Fritschken said. “It’s so important to host the regionals. You know the court, you play there every day, and people come out to support you.”
Of course, it’s even better when all things seem to be clicking within its working parts.
“This year, we really have good chemistry,” Fritschken said. “We’ve really gotten along with each other. We really help each other on the court and off the court.”
That camaraderie is most paramount at this time of the year when togetherness and a fighting spirit separate the good teams from the great ones.
“The girls have worked really hard, and you can really see the difference,” Lopez said. “We’re lucky we’ve been healthy. The girls are really stepping up in postseason.”