MIAMI SHORES, Fla. – Barry University women’s tennis team opens the season Saturday when the Buccaneers host Florida Tech at 10 a.m.
It is the first of two matches to begin the season at Buccaneer Tennis Center this weekend as Embry-Riddle, a future member of the Sunshine State Conference, will visit Miami Shores for a 10 a.m. match Sunday.
Ranked No. 3 in the country, the Buccaneers are coming off a 27-1 season which ended in the NCAA quarterfinals. It was the second straight year the Bucs went through the regular season with an unblemished record.
Needless to say, the quest remains unchanged in 2014.
“The expectations for the past four or five years is pretty much the same,” Barry sixth-year head coach Avi Kigel said. “We want to win the conference championship, which is very tough since our conference is so strong. Of course after that, moving to regionals and win the regionals so we can qualify for nationals. Then, of course, the ultimate goal is to win a national championship.”
Barry won the 2011 NCAA Division II National Championship, but has bowed out in the semifinals and quarterfinals the past two years – both times coming up short against Armstrong Atlantic, the defending champs.
However, a successful fall campaign reinvigorated the Buccaneers, creating the push for the spring. Junior Linda Fritschken and sophomore Emma Onila won the NCAA South Region, Small College Championships and Super Bowl doubles titles. They earned the No. 1 doubles ranking in the country entering the spring.
Sophomore Karina Goia won her first singles title since arriving at Barry in the spring last year. Goia won the Florida International Panther Invitational, beating three Division I opponents to capture the crown. She enters the spring with a No. 19 national singles ranking.
“It felt really great that last semester, I earned an individual ranking,” Goia said. “The fact that I’ve been here only one year, I felt really proud of it.”
Sophomore Elisabeth Abanda and Onila were both doubles All-Americans last season after combining to put together a 21-5 record with a 5-2 mark against nationally-ranked opponents. They share a history together as doubles partners in the junior ranks. However, they could each have different partners this year. Based on the results of the fall when Onila and Fritschen performed so well, it certainly gives Barry options.
“That’s the reason we have the fall season to kind of to try new things and see what works and what doesn’t work,” Kigel said. “We definitely had a very successful fall with doubles, however we have two new girls who will get into the mix so the doubles teams can change or we might switch them a little bit. We’re going to try different combinations and see what works the best.”
Fritschken went 20-1 in singles, winning 18 straight matches to finish the season. She was 4-1 against ranked opponents. Onila went 20-5 with four wins over ranked opponents, and Goia 17-2 with two wins over ranked foes.
Last year, the Bucs were limited to seven players in the lineup. This year, they have 12. Senior Akemi Maehama, who went 19-1 in singles last year and has never lost to a Division II opponent, is back for her final season. Junior Isabela Miro had a 21-1 doubles record, including a 19-1 mark with Goia. Sophomore Kimmy Twelker was 10-2 in singles and 22-3 in doubles – all with Fritschken. Yet if Fritschken and Onila are paired together, Twelker will be working with different or multiple partners.
“Everybody’s back, plus we’ve got a couple of new girls who I think will make an immediate impact to the team,” Kigel said. “Looking at last year, that team was one of the top three in the country. Coming back and having a really good fall and adding a couple new girls, we’re looking to have another very successful spring season.”
Senior Cristina Valladares returns to the lineup this year after sitting out last season. She was an All-American in singles in 2012, and won 18 doubles matches that season. Newcomers Anaeve Pain, Blanka Szavay, Maria Medeiros and Jasi Witherspoon give the Bucs added depth this year.
“The one thing we do have this year compared to last year is we have the numbers,” Kigel said. “Last year we had six girls who could play doubles. Now we have nine girls who can play very good doubles. We definitely can have different combinations. The goal is to find the best three combinations by March-April. We’re going to mix it up and try different combinations, and hopefully we find the winning combination.”
The winning combination will need to come against some of the nation’s best teams as Barry doesn’t schedule lightly. Following six Sunshine State Conference matches in their first dates on the schedule, the Buccaneers play No. 1 Armstrong in a neutral site match in Bradenton, Fla., at the IMG Academy on Feb. 23. The Bucs host NCAA Division I Davidson College, where Kigel was an assistant for four years, on March 2 at Buccaneer Tennis Center. The next day, Barry departs for LaJolla, Calif., where it will meet No. 17 UC-San Diego, No. 10 Fresno Pacific and No. 27 Azusa Pacific over a three-day period during Spring Break.
The following week Bucs return to Miami Shores for the start of eight straight matches over a 19-day period, beginning with a tilt with No. 7 West Florida on March 10. Division I schools Middle Tennessee State and North Florida, NAIA power Auburn-Montgomery, Division II No. 13 New York Institute of Technology and No. 4 Hawai’i Pacific all visit Buccaneer Tennis Center during that stretch. Barry will close the regular season with SSC matches against No. 9 Rollins at home on March 29 and at No. 6 Lynn on April 5.
“I think we’re very motivated,” Kigel said. “We had a really good year last year, but it kind of ended on a little bit of a sour note losing to Armstrong in the quarters. We definitely want to do better. We want to get to the finals, and we want to win it. Last year, five out of the six was the first time for them being in the nationals, playing in the nationals. This year we have the experience. Most of the girls have been there once or twice, so they kind of know the expectation, the pressure. Hopefully we can handle it a little bit better.”
One area the Bucs have a good grasp on this season is working within the framework of the team. That extends to their closeness off the court. That hasn’t always been the case in the past few years.
“The chemistry with the girls is really good,” Kigel said. “We really like it. It’s better than years past. We’re still looking for a little bit more leadership to kind of come through. The girls seem to enjoy one another, and they have fun on the court, and that’s a very important thing.”