Excitement is Key in Tennis' First-Round Big 12 Championship Matchup against No. 7 K-State
April 27, 2011
LAWRENCE, Kan. –
An anxious Kansas tennis team will take the courts of Waco’s Baylor Tennis Center Thursday morning with the opponents, No. 7-seed Kansas State, fresh in their minds. Having just seen their in-state rivals Saturday in the Big 12 regular season finale at the Jayhawk Tennis Center, the Jayhawks know exactly what they are up against in the first round of the 2011 Big 12 Tennis Championship.
“We are excited because we want to take care of a couple opportunities that we didn’t fulfill this weekend,” said Kansas head coach Amy Hall-Holt. KU fell 5-2 over the weekend to K-State in the Sunflower Showdown. But while a loss might trouble another team, Hall-Holt said it’s only added fuel to her squad’s competitive fire.
“We were so close this weekend with a couple of three-setters and the doubles matches that were tied,” Hall-Holt said. “Knowing who we’re playing against and having just seen them play, I think it could be to our advantage.”
Kansas comes into the match at 9-12 on the season and 3-8 in the Big 12. The season has been a roller coaster, with severe highs and lows. Injuries to key starters plagued the team early on, but seven-straight home matches gave the Jayhawks a chance to build momentum going into Big 12 Conference play. KU took advantage and built up a four-match winning streak over the final weeks of the non-conference slate.
The open of conference play brought the task of four-straight nationally-ranked opponents. While the Jayhawks struggled, they never stopped battling and eventually found their footing toward the middle of the season when they won three of four, including the Border Showdown match against No. 73 Missouri, which was KU’s first win over the Tigers in five years and its first victory against a ranked opponent in more than two.
“I think we’re definitely playing at a higher level right now,” Hall-Holt said. “But we’ve got to keep it up at a high level every time we step out there.”
The Campbell’s ITA Women’s College Tennis Rankings show that two Jayhawks in particular have been playing at a high level this season. Junior Ekaterina Morozova and freshman Dylan Windom have had stellar seasons.
Morozova, currently ranked No. 101 in the singles rankings, made history earlier this season after she defeated Texas A&M’s Nazari Urbina, who was then ranked No. 18, becoming the first Kansas player to defeat a top-30 opponent since the fall 2005 season. Morozova was then awarded for her hard work with a No. 65 ranking, which was the highest singles ranking for a KU player since Kris Sell was ranked No. 29 1999.
Morozova enters this weekend with a 12-8 singles mark for the spring and a 6-4 Big 12 mark, which is the fifth-best record of all Big 12 No. 1 starters.
“Kate has shown a lot this year, especially a lot of maturity out on the court. She has been playing a lot smarter,” Hall-Holt said. “She wants to win, and she’s finally figuring out the strategy, not just mentally but physically too, and what she has to do to prepare for these tough matches.”
Morozova has paired with Windom in doubles play, and the match proved to be an exceptional pairing as the two went 14-7 and knocked off two ranked opponents. Windom’s singles play has been just as strong, as her 13 singles wins this season are the most since the 2006-2007 season. Windom also showed tremendous poise for a rookie, clinching two matches for the Jayhawks by way of tough third-set wins.
“I’m very, very proud of their performances,” Hall-Holt said. “Dylan and Paulina Los, our freshman, have really stepped up and really performed at times when we needed them to perform. I think going into the tournament, they are excited about getting the opportunity and being in the mix.”
The Jayhawks are facing a Kansas State squad that is one of the best in recent years. Currently ranked No. 44 in the ITA rankings, K-State finished the regular season at 15-6 overall and 6-5 in the Big 12. The Wildcats boast three players with 15 singles wins or more, including freshman Petra Neidermayerova. The 49th-ranked Neidermayerova went 20-4 this spring and put up a Big 12-leading No. 1 singles mark of 9-2 in conference action.
Karla Bonacic also has 17 wins to her credit and a 5-3 Big 12 mark, while Ana Gomez-Aleman has won her last eight matches and is 8-3 in the Big 12.
K-State opened conference play with a big statement – by beating defending conference champ Baylor on the Bears’ home turf. Baylor, the No. 1 seed this week and the seventh-ranked team in Division I, is 10-1 in conference play, with their only loss coming to the Wildcats.
Hall-Holt knows that beating the Wildcats will be no easy feat, but is confident that her team can pull off the upset.
“I think they just need to be excited that it’s tournament time,” Hall-Holt said. “The coaching staff, we’re excited about playing K-State again because we were so close on Saturday.
I think that makes it a little more exciting to be able to play them in back-to-back matches and I think that has kind of taken a little of the pressure off of us and puts more pressure on K-State to do well.”
The Jayhawks will take on the Wildcats at 10 a.m., Thursday at the Baylor Tennis Center. The winner will move on to face No. 2 seed Texas in Friday’s quarterfinal round. Live scores can be found here.