April 19, 2009
Box Score-CUSA Championship Final
HOUSTON, Texas (SMU)-Sunny skies bathed the Houston area for the first time in days, making for a beautiful 2009 C-USA Women's Tennis Championship match at the Jake Hess Tennis Stadium on the Campus of Rice University on Sunday and once the tennis began, it matched the weather. Top-seeded No. 23 and second-seeded and two-time defending champion Tulsa played some fabulous points, but in the end SMU was too much to handle and came away with a 4-1 victory to extend its program-best winning streak to 17 matches.
The league title is the first for the SMU (27-2) since becoming a member of Conference USA and the first tournament title in program history. The Mustangs had previously won regular season Southwest Conference crowns in 1982 and 1988 and claimed runner-up honors at the 2006 C-USA Championship when they fell to Rice in the final, 4-1.
In doubles, the Mustangs came out on fire just as they had done the previous two days and raced to three-point advantages on all three courts. The No. 3 duo of junior Nicole Briceno and senior Kseniia Tokarieva gave SMU the early advantage when they won in convincing fashion, 8-2, over Rebecca Row and Alexandra Kichoutkin. Moments later at No. 2, the 74th-ranked duo of senior Natalia Bubien and junior Pavi Francis sealed the doubles point for the Mustangs.
Not even a sting from a bee in the 10th game could stop Bubien from closing out with two-straight winners to give her and Francis the 8-2 win over Jie Zeng and Anastasia Erofeeva.
Briceno and Tokarieva are now 18-1 at the third doubles line for SMU and 21-1 overall. The duo has won 19 matches in a row. Bubien and Francis improved to 19-4 overall and 9-2 at the No. 2 doubles spot.
SMU head coach Lauren Longbotham Meisner was very proud of her team's performance, especially that of her seniors.
"I am so proud of my team, especially my seniors," Meisner said. "I thought we came out and set the tone in doubles, just like we had all week and all season. I feel like we have three of the best doubles teams in the country and when we come out and play with confidence, we can get ourselves an early lead."
In singles, SMU went ahead 2-0 after Tokarieva cruised to a 6-0, 6-1 win at No. 6 singles. The native of Belarus is now 14-0 at the six spot and 17-1 overall. The senior has won her last 12 matches in a row.
Mere minutes later Tulsa pulled to within 2-1 as Anastasia Erofeeva cruised to a straight-set 6-0, 6-1 win over Francis at No. 4. It was her seventh win at the No. 4 line this spring and her 23rd win overall and fourth in a row.
SMU then closed to within one point of the championship as freshman Aleksandra Malyarchikova downed Thalia Diaz-Barriga at the No. 3 single line also in straight sets, 6-1, 6-0. Malyarchikova is undefeated on the spring season at 13-0 including a 9-0 mark at No. 3.
Serving for the match win and the league championship on the main court, fellow SMU freshman Marta Lesniak put the finishing touches on her straight set 6-2, 6-2 victory against Alexandra Kichoutkin at No. 1 and the celebration soon began for the Mustangs.
Lesniak improved her overall record to 13-1 at the top spot in the Mustang lineup and she has now won eight matches in a row.
"Tulsa is a tough team," Meisner said. "They have won the C-USA title the last two years for a reason and we knew this wasn't going to be easy. Getting Kseniia off No. 6 quick gave us a real boost in singles and I was happy that Marta was able to clinch the win for us. It (the win) was a real confidence builder for her as Kichoutkin is one of the better players in C-USA. This was just a really good match and a tough win for us."
Mustang junior Nicole Briceno added that she was happy to see her teammates respond in a positive way after an injury plagued 2008 campaign.
"It feels good to finally win a conference championship after all that happened last year with all of our injuries." Briceno said. "It shows how tough we are and how we were able to bounce back from a tough year and come back and have a great year. Winning a championship is what any player or coach dreams of. It is all about having heart and giving it all that you have got. That is what we did this whole week and have done all season."
SMU received the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tennis Championships with the victory, while No. 38 Tulsa will have to wait and see if it can claim an at-large bid.