PADUCAH, Ky -
For the first time since 2007, the Murray State women’s tennis team is Ohio Valley Conference Champions. Last weekend, the Racers clinched the top seed and regular-season crown, today it was the tournament championship, propelling them into their fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in May.
The relatively young Racer squad handled the pressures of a championship match with the presence of seasoned veterans, taking down Eastern Kentucky 4-1.
“Pure, pure joy,” said head coach Olga Elkin about the win. “This is what we came to do. It was our goal from day one, to win the conference tournament. This is what we worked so hard for.”
The No. 1 seed earned them a bye into the semi-final round where they faced #5 UT Martin. After they defeated the Skyhawks, the Racers then had the daunting task of facing the two-time defending OVC Champions, Eastern Kentucky.
MSU stormed out of the gate, earning the doubles point by winning on courts one and two and leading at three. After suffering their first loss in conference as a pairing, Andrea Eskauriatza and Erin Patton got the Racers on the board first with an 8-4 win. Up 7-5 on court one, it seemed like the Colonels would even things up, bringing it down to the third draw. But Eleonore and Verginie Tchakarova had other plans, roaring back to tie the match at 7-7. Then, like they’ve practiced so many times, the twins easily won the tiebreaker, 7-2, giving MSU the first point. Megan Blue and Carla Suga were also leading, 6-5, when the match was called.
“We work on tiebreakers so much in practice,” said head coach Olga Elkin. “We have done a million tiebreakers, all the time, because that’s where matches are won. It was a huge boost of confidence heading into the singles knowing we had the doubles point in our pocket. I think that is when we realized it could be a special day.”
Over in singles, it was again Eskauriatza who put MSU ahead, 2-0. She quickly finished off Kristina LaBeja, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2. EKU was able to take a point back on court six where they won 6-1, 6-4, cutting the Racer lead in half, 2-1.
With the remaining matches coming down to the wire, it was Eleonore Tchakarova and Megan Blue, finishing just minutes apart, lifting the Racers to victory. Tchakarova defeated two-time defending OVC Player of the Year Amandine Faouzi 6-3, 6-3 on court two. Yesterday it was Patton, it was Blue’s turn to play hero, winning in straight sets at the No. 4 draw, 6-2, 6-4.
That the match was won on Blue’s victory was not necessarily a twist of fate. “Megan and I sat down after a tough loss earlier in the year,” said Coach Elkin. “I told her when the match is on the line, I want you on the court. There is going to be a chance for you to clinch a big match for us.”
Elkin’s premonition came true twice, both times against EKU. It was Blue who also sealed the Racers win earlier in the month, snapping EKU’s 30-match conference winning streak. And today, she clinched the biggest point of the season.
The conference championship means the season is not yet over for the Racers. MSU has earned their fifth NCAA tournament appearance, taking place May 15-26 in Athens, Ga. The Racers will find who they play in round one, April 29, in the NCAA selection show.
From: MSU media relations
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