KU Tennis Season in Review

May 9, 2007

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Look no further than the University of Kansas’ heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma in the first round of the Big 12 Championships to understand what epitomized its 2007 spring season — the Jayhawks are almost there. Comprised of a roster that featured no seniors and a collection of student-athletes that battled injuries and adversity all year, KU tennis set the foundation for what appears to be a bright future for the program.

On the heels of an outstanding fall in which several of its players accomplished impressive feats at four of the nation’s top preseason tournaments, highlighted by Elizaveta Avdeeva and Edina Horvath’s championship performance at the ITA Central Regional doubles tournament, Kansas entered the spring ranked 59th in the country and with excitement at a peak.

After dropping their first two contests to Tulsa and No. 43 Indiana, the Jayhawks picked up their first win of the season, 4-1, over Drake on Jan. 21. KU got singles wins from Avdeeva, Horvath, Yuliana Svistun and freshman Kunigunda Dorn, who started off her collegiate career by winning two of her first three singles matches. The `Hawks also dominated doubles play, getting wins from all three of its tandems, including Avdeeva and Horvath’s third straight victory in the No. 1 position.

What followed the win over Drake, however, would prove to be a major factor throughout the remainder of KU’s season. Not only did the squad drop to 1-3 after a setback at the hands of No. 20 Texas, the Jayhawks, who were already playing minus the injured Stephanie Smith, were dealt a devastating blow when they learned Ksenia Bukina, an All-Big 12 singles and doubles performer from 2006, would miss the remainder of the year. The loss of Bukina presented several KU players with the task of moving up a spot in the singles lineup, including several to positions they had never competed in.

The Jayhawks struggled to make the transition, losing their next four duals against Syracuse, Wake Forest, Arkansas and BYU to fall to 1-7. Although the team had hit a rough stretch, Avdeeva and Horvath were storming through doubles competition, as the put together a streak of six wins in its first eight matches.

Next up for Kansas was a date with non-conference foe Utah in Lawrence, which became arguably the highlight of the season for the Jayhawks. With the dual score knotted at three and only the No. 6 match to be decided, Smith, playing for the first time all spring, outlasted the Utes’ Jessica Carter in a thrilling three-set contests, sending her squad to the 4-3 victory. The dual also featured Avdeeva and Horvath’s seventh win of the young season in the No. 1 doubles slot, as well as a victory from the No. 3 duo of Svistun and Lauren Hommell.

Following a setback at No. 41 Oklahoma State, the Jayhawks won back-to-back outings and appeared to be steering the season in the right direction. First was a convincing 6-1 victory over Iowa State in Ames on March 3. KU got singles wins from Avdeeva, Dorn, Svistun, Smith and Horvath, who recorded the first of what was eventually a season-high streak of four consecutive victories. The Jayhawks also swept all three doubles matchups.

That momentum then carried into Kansas’ March 10 meeting with Nebraska in which the Jayhawks dominated the Huskers, 5-2. The win, which evened the `Hawks conference record at 2-2, featured the fourth-straight win from Avdeeva and Horvath in the No. 1 doubles position, as well as the seventh-consecutive victory from Svistun in the No. 5 singles position, which was the longest unbeaten streak by any KU player all season. Also taking singles matches for KU were Dorn, Horvath and Smith.

After a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Louisville on March 11, four of the Jayhawks players headed off to Phoenix, Ariz., for a round-robin spring break tournament. The weekend was a huge success for KU, as Avdeeva, Dorn and Svistun each won their singles contest, as did Horvath, whose win over Murray State’s Angela McGahee was the Budapest, Hungary, native’s fourth in a row.

With the much needed rest from spring break, the Jayhawks began the stretch run of their schedule with seven-consecutive conference duals to close out the season. First up was a date 16th-ranked and defending Big 12 Champion Baylor in Waco. Despite the fact that KU dropped the contest to the Bears, Avdeeva and Horvath notched their most significant win of the season as they defeated BU’s top tandem of Zuzana Cerna and Zuzana Chmerlarova, 8-6, improving the duo’s mark to 12-3.

Kansas then hit its roughest stretch of the season, dropping its next four contests to No. 69 Texas Tech, Missouri, Kansas State, and No. 30 Colorado. However, Svistun continued to establish herself as one of the league’s top singles players in the No. 5 position, as she tallied victories in all four outings to improve her record to 13-5 during the spring, including a 7-2 Big 12 record. Horvath also recorded two singles wins during that sequence of matches.

On April 18, KU headed to Norman, Okla., looking to break its losing streak against the Sooners. The Jayhawks appeared to be on their way after taking the doubles point and getting singles wins from Avdeeva and Svistun in two of the first three matches to be completed. However, OU stormed back, winning each of the remaining three singles matchups, all of which coming in three sets, to hand the Jayhawks one of their most stinging defeats of the season, 4-3.

KU closed out its regular season on April 22 with a 7-0 loss to No. 21 Texas A&M. Despite the lopsided score, the Jayhawks’ doubles tandem of Hommell and Dorn, who had been competing at No. 2 for less than a month, picked up Kansas’ biggest doubles win of the season when they topped A&M’s 39th-ranked and eventual league champion duo of Lubinsky and Mechem, handing the pair its only conference setback of the spring.

At the end of the regular season, the Jayhawks stood 4-16, including a 2-9 Big 12 record that pitted them as the No. 11 seed in the Big 12 Championships in Kansas City, Mo., which was hosted by the University of Kansas.

The Jayhawks’ first-round opponent was an intriguing one as they were given the opportunity to avenge the stinging loss to Oklahoma. The dual again started in KU’s favor, as the `Hawks got doubles wins from Hommell and Dorn, which was the duo’s third-straight, as well as Avdeeva and Horvath, who outlasted Oklahoma’s No. 1 tandem of Gabby Baker and Irina Lykina in a classic tiebreak match, giving Kansas the 1-0 lead.

OU then tied the dual up with a win in the No. 4 match, but Svistun immediately put her squad on top, 2-1, with her dominating victory over OU’s Chelsea Orr in the No. 5 position. The Sooners, however rallied again, winning the next two singles contests to be completed to put themselves on the verge of advancing to the quarterfinals.

Kansas would not got gently, though, as Smith won a three-set match in the No. 6 slot to knot the dual at three with only the No. 1 matchup remaining between Avdeeva and OU’s Gabby Baker. The Obninsk, Russia, native, fought hard, but could not overcome the powerful Baker, who took the match, 7-5, 7-6 (3), ending KU’s season.

Following the bitter conclusion to its spring, Kansas was recognized by the Big 12 Conference for the performance of its players both on the court and in the classroom. Smith was named first team Academic All-Big 12, while Hommell was selected to the second team. Smith, a Salina, Kan., native, was second-team Academic All-Big 12 in 2006 as well.

Also garnering recognition from the league were Avdeeva and Horvath, who were named All-Big 12 First Team doubles following a season in which the tandem went 7-4 in the conference, which was the second-best mark in the No. 1 position. Avdeeva also was placed on the All-Big 12 singles team for the second-straight year.

Svistun finished second in the league’s No. 5 singles position standings with a record of 8-2, behind only Texas A&M’s Nicki Mechem, who went 9-2. Overall, the Ufa, Russia, native led KU with a 15-6 singles record in the spring, followed by Horvath, who went 11-11. Avdeeva and Horvath finished with a team-best mark of 15-7 in doubles play, while Dorn and Hommell ended with a mark of 5-7.

The season proved once again that the Big 12 Conference is one of the nation’s elite. Five of the league’s member schools finished the regular season ranked in the ITA poll, including NCAA Tournament selections Baylor, Colorado, Texas and Texas A&M. Add that to a non-conference slate that featured four opponents which were ranked at the time of their match with KU, and it’s evident that the Jayhawks took on one of the most daunting schedules in the country.

The 2007 spring campaign was trying year for KU, but with the experience and lessons learned by the team both on and off the court, better days for the Jayhawks are certainly on the horizon.