Tech’s women’s tennis team opened the dual season against the University of Central Florida Golden Knights this past Saturday, Jan. 20. The two teams have history. Last spring, Tech took a 4-3 match in Atlanta and eliminated the Knights from the NCAA Tournament in the first round, ending UCF’s season. The Jackets took the courts Saturday morning at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida.
Tech’s upperclassman duo of Carol Lee and junior Kate Sharabura struck first against the Knights pair of sophomore Noel Saidenova and redshirt sophomore Anique Kattenberg. These Jackets jumped out to a 4-0 start, closing the match 6-2 to give Tech a decisive doubles advantage.
The Knights got revenge in the next match, as junior Kylie Bilchev and sophomore Alejandra Cruz dropped their doubles match 2-6 against UCF’s Jantje Tilbuerger and Olivia Lincer on the second court. The freshman duo Scarlett Nichols and Given Roach continued their strong play from the Michigan Invitational with a 4-0 open against Knights Sophia Biolay and Jaleesa Leslie. Leslie and Biolay clawed their way back by winning the next six games and ending the match 4-6. With a 1-2 performance in doubles action, Tech lost the crucial doubles point to UCF.
Tech needed to win four of six singles matches to take a win back to Atlanta. Fortunately, Tech’s ranked No. 107 Lee and No. 123 Bilchev held the advantage over their unranked Knights Lincer and Biolay, respectively.
The Knights rode strongly into singles action, as Cruz fell first on court three following consecutive 0-6 dropped sets to UCF’s Tilbuerger while senior Mahak Jain could not pull out a win on the fourth court. She conceded two 3-6 sets to Saidenova despite starting the second set 2-0. Stuck in a 0-3 rut, Tech had to win the rest of the singles matches to keep pace as the Knights could claim the match with a single win.
Lee battled at a 5-5 second set on the first court after dropping the first set 2-6 to Lincer. Bilchev bounced back from a 0-6 sweep in the first set against her second court opponent Biolay to take an impressive 6-1 second set and held the third set close at 2-3. At the sixth court, Sharabura won an incredible first set 7-5 against UCF’s Kattenberg yet trailed 0-1 in the third set after falling 2-6 in the second set.Despite their hard-fought showings, Lee, Bilchev and Sharabura did not finish their singles matches as the match was suspended following UCF claiming their fourth point on the fifth court.
Jackets’ freshman Roach played against Knight Leslie in a close competition, as she dropped the first set 4-6 and held a 3-2 lead in the second set. Unfortunately, Leslie finished strong to win six consecutive games and clinch the win for UCF, giving the Knights a 1-0 record in the dual season.
Last season, Tech posted a successful 13-8 dual season record, ending the season ranked No. 20. The Jackets then beat Syracuse and the No. 6 ranked Duke in the ACC Championship tournaments before falling against the No. 5 ranked NC State Wolfpack in the semi-final round. Tech eliminated UCF in the first round of the NCAA Tournament but lost to the No. 16 ranked Florida Gators in the second round and finished the season with an impressive overall record of 16-10.
Returning Jackets this season include Bilchev, Cruz, Jain, Lee, Sharabura and senior Ruth Marsh. Tech adds four freshmen in Ginger Foster, Meera Jesudason, Nicholson and Roach.
The Jackets will lean on their veterans in singles play, particularly the No. 1 and 2 positions held by Lee and Bilchev, who went 17-7 and 20-4 in dual singles action last season, respectively. Roach was the only new Jacket to compete in singles. Last dual season, Lee peaked at No. 7 for her singles play and remained within the top 16 throughout the entire season. Bilchev spent the season in the top 50 and ranked No. 23 in April. As for doubles play, Tech brings back their pairing of Bilchev and Cruz, reaching a zenith of being ranked No. 69 last year and adds an exciting freshman duo in Nicholson and Roach. This pairing will be worth watching as the season progresses.
The Jackets will be looking for their first win at the ITA Kickoff Weekend in Charlottesville, Va., against the No. 25 ranked Wisconsin Badgers on Friday, Jan. 26, and either unranked Texas Tech or the No. 12 ranked Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday, Jan. 27.