Tennis Teams Dominate USA South
Bulletin: The men’s and women’s tennis teams were eliminated in the NCAA Atlantic South Regionals held May 8-10 in Virginia. In first-round action, the women shut out Alvernia, 5-0, before it fell to Washington & Lee, 5-0, a day later in Fredericksburg. After receiving a first-round bye, the men vanquished W&L, 5-3, and then lost to regional powerhouse Emory, 5-1, in Lexington.
(Editor’s Note: The following article was filed prior to the NCAA regionals.)
The men’s and women’s tennis teams dominated the USA South Tourney held on the NCWC campus April 19, with both teams beating rival Methodist in the finals.
The men’s team won, 8-1, to cap an undefeated conference season and claim its seventh consecutive USA South title.
Senior Robert Kjellberg led the way as he beat MU’s R.J. Clement, 6-2, 6-1, in #1 singles action after teaming with fellow Swede Sebastian Sikh to win in doubles, 8-2.
Other singles winners were Fabio Pereira, Fernando Nardelli, Andres Gomez and Eduardo Ugalde. Sikh absorbed the only defeat, losing at #2 singles, 6-4, 6-4, to Taylor Buckholtz.
In its next match, the men’s team demolished 11th-ranked Johns Hopkins, 8-1, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The win boosted the team’s confidence at a critical point in the season, just before the NCAAs and one month after it lost to its regional nemesis, Emory University, 6-3. “That was a major win for us since we haven't won against (Johns Hopkins) the last four years,” said Sikh, who, with Kjellberg, set the tone for the Bishops by winning at #1 doubles, 8-4.
Sikh said that a strong team performance in doubles will be critical to winning in the regionals. After receiving a first-round bye, the Bishops (16-5)––ranked 23rd in the nation––will take on the host team, Washington & Lee University (ranked 34th), in Virginia.
“There’s a big difference between starting to play singles 3-0 and 0-3,” Sikh said, explaining that success in the opening three doubles matches “is a way for players to get a bit more relaxed and play our best. If you get the feeling that you have to win, then it’s easy to try too hard and that way you won't be able to play your best tennis.”
Second-year Coach Andres Amores agreed. “We've been working a lot on doubles,” he said. “If we get a good start against the top-ranked teams, we can gain the momentum and have a better chance at winning.”
As the team prepared for its match against W&L, Sikh said that Coach Amores has preached consistency. “He’s been working on making sure each player uses his (particular) strengths the best way possible,” Sikh said, noting that one focus has been on the baseline game.
Earlier in the season Amores had said one of his goals is for Kjellberg and Sikh to win a national title in doubles. Sikh believes that’s achievable. He pointed out that he complements Kjellberg’s strong baseline game and aggressiveness with a booming serve and quick hands at the net. “Our game is very aggressive and intense and our high tempo is the key,” he said.
The women’s team completed a dramatic rebuilding process by dismantling Methodist, 9-0, to claim the conference tournament title.
The victory marked the program’s first championship and NCAA berth.
In the conference tourney, the Bishops were led by junior Valeria Berber, who was undefeated at the #4 singles and #3 doubles positions. A native of Piedad, Mexico, she picked up four total wins to earn the tourney’s most valuable player honors.
She was joined on the all-tournament team by sophomore Natalia Lopez, freshman Rachel Hui, and freshman Sofia Gonzalez.
Last year Wesleyan women’s team finished with a 3-9 overall record, with many individual matches forfeited because it was unable to muster the required six players.
In 2015, with an infusion of new talent, the Bishops won each of their 12 conference matches. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that the team shut out its opponents, 9-0, in 10 matches, surrendering only three individual matches along the way. In other words, the women won 105 matches and lost 3.
The team lost twice during the year, both times to non-conference opponents, back in February—9-0 to George Mason, a Division I school, and 7-2 to Mary Washington, which was ranked 22nd in DIII at the time.
(Sports Information contributed to this report.)