RICHMOND, Ky. – SIUE women's tennis nearly pulled off an upset to start the Ohio Valley Conference season Saturday, falling to preseason league favorite Eastern Kentucky 4-3.
"When you play a team that has had success in recent years that Eastern Kentucky has, you know you are going to need to play your best to have an opportunity in the end," said SIUE Head Coach Jason Coomer. "I felt like we did that. The girls all played hard, and we just came up a little short against a team that was in the NCAA Tournament last year."
It was the tightest regular season match for the Colonels since the 2012 season. Last season when EKU advanced to the NCAA Tournament, it yielded just one point during the regular season to OVC opponents.
"Today we definitely got off to a fast start by winning the doubles point," said Coomer. "I was happy with our play and how our girls stepped on the court and were ready to go."
SIUE, 5-6 overall and 0-1 in the OVC, won the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles matches with some hard fought play. Haley Ilcewicz and Lexi Aranda bested Saioa Oscoz and Carmen Rodriquez 8-7 at No. 2 doubles while Kali Donner and Mia Frogner downed Amadine Faouzi and Milena Poffo 8-6.
"Haley and Lexi playing at No. 2 today came out and did exactly what we asked them to do," said Coomer. "They were in a tight match all the way through and didn't buckle under the pressure. Kali and Mia came out at No. 3 doubles and set the tone from the beginning. They were able to get out to a quick lead and didn't look back."
Down a doubles point, EKU, which improved to 5-7 overall and 2-0 in the OVC, needed a strong comeback to defeat the Cougars.
"The match was in question either way throughout the duration of singles play," said Coomer.
Frogner picked up SIUE's first singles point of the day with a 6-2, 7-5 win over Oscoz at No. 3 singles.
"Mia continued to show her growth as a player," said Coomer. "She found herself in a tight second set. As the pressure grew, her game grew as well."
Sierra Halverson also was victorious at No. 6 singles, outlasting Marcela Jimenez 7-6, 3-6, 6-4.
"Sierra played today just like she did in the fall, maintaining her composure and focus the whole match," Coomer said. "Sierra fought back from a 3-0 deficit to win the first set. That fight she displayed allowed her to get the victory today."
EKU would go on to win the rest of the singles matches, including a three-set win for Kristina Labeja over Aranda 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 at No. 1 singles.
Coomer said it was more of a matter of Labeja getting into a groove and executing rather than Aranda losing the match.
"Lexi got off to a fast start in the first set playing as complete of a set as you can hope for," he said. "She played hard, and she played well. Matches like this are only going to make her stronger. Overall she hit some big shots today. We're looking forward to her getting back on the court tomorrow."
Coomer said the Cougars played a difficult non-conference schedule to prepare for matches like this one Saturday.
"I felt like we stepped up and executed," said Coomer. "We just came up a little bit short. We're hopeful we'll get another opportunity later in the season to avenge this loss."
SIUE next travels to Morehead, Ky., for a Sunday match against Morehead State. The Cougars and the Eagles are expected to go indoors with weather forecasts in Kentucky calling for snow. The first serve is scheduled for 1 p.m. CT.
"When you get into conference play you have to have short memories sometimes," Coomer said. "You have to value each opportunity. I know our girls will be ready to play tomorrow."