After beating Toledo 4-2 this Saturday, Miami Tennis couldn’t replicate its success against the No. 1 Mid-American Conference seed Buffalo on Sunday. The Bulls would edge out Miami for the Tournament crown for the second straight year.
“I’m very proud of the team overall,” head coach Ricardo Rosas said on Monday. “I’m pleased with their effort and hard work, but a little disappointed because we didn’t get it done.”
The RedHawks finish their season 12-9 overall, with an 8-1 record in conference play – the ’Hawks’ only MAC loses this season were to Buffalo.
“If I step back, we wanted to win,” Rosas said, “but what we accomplished with two seniors and Emily [Struble] as a junior and the rest of the roster as freshmen, I’m very proud of the way they handled themselves.”
On Saturday, the RedHawks uncharacteristically lost the doubles point. That is, the pairings of seniors Nelli Ponomareva and Anastasiia Vasiukhina and freshmen Milana Lysova and Priyana Kalita both lost for the first time since non-conference play.
The slow start to the day put Miami in a 1-0 hole against Toledo, as Miami would need four of six singles victories and Toledo would only need three to move on to the MAC Championship match.
Undeterred, the ’Hawks soared past the Toledo Rockets in singles play. Junior Emily Struble finished with decisive back-to-back 6-1 set scores to claim a point and tie the match score 1-1. Freshman Lena Babunski finished next and won 6-2 and 6-3 to put Miami in the lead 2-1.
The Rockets would challenge the RedHawks, as it tied the match 2-2 after Lysova battled to a hard loss during the third singles match. Ponomareva would put the ’Hawks back on top with 7-6 and 6-3 wins over Toledo’s No. 1 player.
Freshman Makenzie Myers sealed the deal in three sets – losing her first set 4-6, but then rebounding to win the second and third 6-2. Myers’ win pushed Miami to the winning 4-2 count and punched her team’s ticket to the MAC Championship match.
“It was obviously a good weekend in terms of the way the team competed and the way we started with Toledo,” Rosas said. “We faced some challenges after losing the doubles point, but seeing the team come back and win the four singles, that was pretty good for them. They were determined and they knew they needed to get four points.”
On Sunday, the RedHawks would roar out to a 1-0 start after winning the doubles point. Lysova and Kalita defeated Buffalo’s No. 2 pair 6-2, and Struble and freshman Melati Devi defeated the No. 3 pair 6-2 to claim the doubles point.
The Bulls bounced back, however, and would win three back-to-back singles matches to solidify a 3-1 lead. Miami’s Ponomareva lost 0-6 to Buffalo’s No. 1 player in her first set, but was resilient to claim back-to-back 6-2 sets.
Ponomareva gave her team a chance to win, though Struble was narrowly defeated 6-2 and 6-3 by Buffalo’s Redshirt senior Lolade Ogungbesan even after winning 7-5 in the first set. The win gave Buffalo its second MAC Tournament championship in as many years.
“I think sometimes we think about the results, which we didn’t get the championship,” Rosas said, “but we lost to Buffalo and they won last year and are a good team. That was our two losses this year – against them – so, I’m very proud of the team.”
Though a disappointing end to an impressive season, Miami returns one junior in Struble and six freshmen for a chance at next year’s MAC Tournament title. Rosas is confident in his young and now experienced team, even when losing staples Ponomareva and Vasiukhina.
“I’m very proud – to do what we did with the six freshmen never having played a college match in their lives,” Rosas said. “Even Emily Struble mentioned they were not afraid of anything, and I agree with that. I think they just embraced it and they were brave.”
Next year’s Fall season will likely start in September, and the competitive Spring season will start in January.