2008 KU Tennis Spring Recap

May 9, 2008

<?xml:namespace prefix=”st1″ ns=”urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags”?>LAWRENCE, Kan. — Heading into its 2008 spring season, the University of Kansas tennis team was certainly optimistic given the success of the fall coupled with a talented, experienced group of student-athletes. <?xml:namespace prefix=”o” ns=”urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office”?>

However, what transpired over the next several months – on both a team and individual level – not only likely exceeded what many felt was attainable for the Jayhawks, but subsequently set the building blocks for what appears to be a bright future for the KU program.

After a strong showing at the preseason Hawaii Spring Invitational, Kansas opened its dual match schedule with road contests against eventual NCAA Tournament selections Arkansas and Tulsa. Despite falling in both matchups, KU played well, including a victory by its No. 1 doubles tandem of senior Elizaveta Avdeeva and junior Edina Horvath against Arkansas’ pair of Maryoria Franco and Nanar Airapetian, which was ranked 45th in the nation at the time.

Freshman Magdalena Tokarczyk also made an early impression, as she was moved into the No. 1 singles position after winning her first two singles contests over the dual season following a 3-0 performance in Hawaii.

KU made its first appearance at First Serve on Feb. 10 with a double-header against Illinois and Saint Louis. The Jayhawks split the pair of duals, notching their first win of the season against Saint Louis in convincing fashion, 7-0.

With momentum from the SLU victory, Kansas went on to win two of its next three outings, including a road victory at Eastern Kentucky on Feb. 23.

Following a setback at No. 56 BYU, the Jayhawks picked up their first of what would become several down-to-the-wire conference wins against rival KansasState in Manhattan. In a role she would become accustomed to, senior Lauren Hommell broke a 3-3 tie with a victory in the No. 6 singles contest, sending her squad to its first win in a conference opener since 2004.

Hommell, who missed the entire fall with an arm injury, then came up big again as the Jayhawks recorded their second-straight victory over a ranked foe with a 4-3 win against New Mexico on March 9. Hommell again broke a 3-3 tie by taking the No. 6 contest, joining Horvath and sophomore Kunigunda Dorn as singles winners. Horvath’s victory marked her eighth in KU’s first 10 duals. The win also helped vault Kansas into the national rankings for the first time since the 2005-06 campaign, climbing as high as No. 55.

Despite the momentum from two-straight thrilling victories, the Jayhawks began to struggle, dropping three consecutive duals including league matches at Colorado and Missouri.

However, KU bounced back by winning home matches against Oklahoma – which was again clinched by a victory from Hommell – and OklahomaState to improve its league record to 3-2.

But the Jayhawks would again hit a rough stretch, dropping four straight to No. 4 Baylor, Texas Tech, No. 20 Texas and No. 33 Texas A&M. Despite the disappointing results, the matches did provide several individual highlights for the Jayhawks. Hommell and Dorn picked up just KU’s second victory against a ranked doubles tandem all season with a win against Baylor’s 57th-ranked duo of Taylor Ormond and Jalena Stanivuk in the No. 2 position. Junior Yuliana Svistun also notched two singles victories during the span.

With the regular season nearing its conclusion, Kansas needed to make a late push in order to secure a desirable seed at the upcoming Big 12 Championship, and it did just that. In a must-win against No. 67 Nebraska in Lawrence on April 18, the Jayhawks regained the toughness that had paced them earlier in the year as they edged the Huskers, 4-3. After sweeping doubles play, Kansas found itself in a 3-3 tie with only the No. 6 singles match remaining, and again turned to Hommell. The senior did not disappoint, defeating NU’s Maria Ring in three sets to clinch the dual victory.

Kansas then closed out its regular season with a dominating 7-0 win over IowaState on April 20. The dual marked the final home appearances for seniors Avdeeva, Hommell and Stephanie Smith, and all three recorded singles wins on the afternoon. The day was especially meaningful for Avdeeva, who became KU’s all-time leader in Big 12 doubles wins with her and Horvath’s victory in the No. 1 match. The dual win made KU 5-6 in the conference, good for fifth-place in the final standings – the program’s best finish since 2002.

The Jayhawks opened up play in the Big 12 Championship in College Station as the No. 5 seed on April 24 and were immediately pitted back up against IowaState, the No. 12 seed. KU again handled the Cyclones, 4-0, marking the school’s 30th-straight victory in the series, and more importantly, setting up a showdown with Colorado in the quarterfinals.

The Buffaloes, though, proved to be too much as they defeated Kansas, 5-0, ending the Jayhawks’ season. KU finished with an overall record of 10-13 despite facing a schedule that included 14 opponents ranked in the final ITA National Rankings and six eventual NCAA Tournament teams. Kansas closed the year ranked 71st in the national poll.

Horvath finished the season as KU’s top singles performer with 12 dual victories while Dorn, Svistun and Hommell each tallied 10. Avdeeva and Horvath – an All-Big 12 tandem in 2007 – led the team with a 13-9 doubles record. Following completion of the conference championship, Tokarczyk became just the 10th KU athlete in school history to be named to the All-Big 12 singles team. The Ksawerow, Poland, native was one of just three freshman to garner all-conference singles honors.

Several Jayhawks were recognized for their outstanding efforts off the court as well. Avdeeva, Dorn and Smith were all named to the Academic All-Big 12 first team, while Hommell made the second team. Avdeeva also was one of just five Kansas student-athletes to be presented with the Robert Frederick Senior Scholar Athlete of the Year Award at the Jayhawk Senior Scholar Banquet on April 30.

Kansas officially put an end to its season on May 8 with its annual awards banquet. Headlining the event was the presentation of the team’s Most Valuable Player award to Hommell. Other awards handed out were: Most Improved Player to Dorn, Academic Award to Smith, Sportsmanship Award to Horvath and Hardest Worker Award to Avdeeva. Tokarczyk and fellow freshman Maria Martinez were also each presented with letter jackets.

Overall, the 2008 spring campaign was undoubtedly a memorable one for KU, and, despite being the final season for three seniors who had outstanding careers both on and off the courts, has a chance to be remembered as the start of something special for the Jayhawk program.