Women’s tennis overcome hurdles to win Big East Tournament

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Women’s tennis overcome hurdles to win Big East Tournament

Three DePaul women's tennis players celebrate together after winning the Big East Tournament on April 22 in South Carolina. DePaul defeated Xavier 4-3 in the finals.

Three DePaul women's tennis players celebrate together after winning the Big East Tournament on April 22 in South Carolina. DePaul defeated Xavier 4-3 in the finals.

Courtesy of The Big East

Three DePaul women's tennis players celebrate together after winning the Big East Tournament on April 22 in South Carolina. DePaul defeated Xavier 4-3 in the finals.

Courtesy of The Big East

Courtesy of The Big East

Three DePaul women's tennis players celebrate together after winning the Big East Tournament on April 22 in South Carolina. DePaul defeated Xavier 4-3 in the finals.

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The DePaul Women’s tennis team has had a tumultuous season filled with injuries and close calls. The Blue Demons have had stretches where they were unable to have a full team fit to play some of their matches.

It all started in early November, when Serbian freshman Hristina Djokic got hurt at the Notre Dame Invitational.

This event was the start of a whirlwind campaign that included highs and lows that have been rarely experienced in years past. 

Other student athletes that have been injured for multiple matches include Keisha Clousing, Lenka Antonijevic, Alina Kuzmenkova and Milica Tesic.

In conference matches against Marquette and Xavier, the Blue Demons were forced to forfeit the number six singles spot because they did not have a full team at their disposal. In two other nonconference matches against Michigan State and Cleveland State, the team had to forfeit both the number six singles and three doubles duals.

“I think that actually helps us because when we played Xavier we knew we did not have our lineup at all,” senior captain Keisha Clousing said when speaking on all the injuries throughout the season.

“We knew that at conference we actually never lost to them at full strength, we never even played them at full strength,” Clousing said.
“So our biggest strength coming into that match is that they don’t know if that was our different lineup, we knew that we were a lot stronger that when we played them.”

As a result, this season seemed like a big struggle. The Blue Demons started the season very shaky and only won two matches as a team out of conference out of a possible 11. They quickly began their turnaround and were more than respectable in the Big East by compiling a more than respectable record of 6-2 in the conference. Before the Big East Tournament, the Blue Demons were three games below .500 at 8-11.

Clousing has been an integral part of the team this year and has contributed to help the team be ready for whatever situation they will have to go through.

“Throughout our adversity as a team this year, when we would talk, our goal in mind was Big East, no matter what we are going to put everything aside,” Clousing explained. “I think this year that prepared everyone, I don’t think it mattered their age, we prepared throughout the season what Big East is going to look like, what we need to do to prepare for it, and what our mindset was going to be once we got there.”

Despite the plethora of injuries that struck the team, they were the number two seed going into the Big East Tournament. During the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, the Blue Demons advanced with relative ease, beating Creighton and Villanova respectively.

These results pitted DePaul against number one seed Xavier who won 20 straight team matches going into the tournament final and beat down the Blue Demons on their home court in Cincinnati by a score of six to one in conference play.

“Just the mentality of being in the finals, I knew that it was going to be a completely different match,” Clousing said when referring to her conference match at Xavier.

“I knew the conditions were not in my favor. [At Xavier], being outside, I kinda just had the mentality that this is 100% different conditions, it’s hot, it’s outside, so I just went on a clean slate.”

Clousing was the first competitor to finish her singles match in the final and won in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2.

Sophomore Marija Jovicic was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, with a record of 5-0 in singles and doubles matches during the weekend. She was also one of the few players who was healthy the entire year.

“I think it was more about the entire team atmosphere during the Big East,” Jovicic said. “During the entire year when we were struggling with injuries, and different adversity, we were talking about that Big East, that moment where we will need to focus and deal with everything that is bothering us.”

Jovicic continued to speak on how they had come together as a team when all things were not going in their favor.

“We got into that mentality from the start, and I could see on everyone’s faces around me, they were so focused, they knew we needed to win,” Jovicic said. “I went with it, I went with that energy and motivation, and I just knew that I had to get my points and the final result was going to be good.”

Coach Mark Ardizzone said he has had teams with major injury problems, but nothing quite like this team. The Blue Demons have used 21 different doubles pairings in their matches so far.

“We have had a couple years at DePaul where we’ve had that, to be honest, when kids are out it forces other kids to step up, to play higher positions or to play with a different doubles partner,” Ardizzone said. “In the long run, we know when we get everyone together that we do have a strength in numbers and we have a good group.”

DePaul will now await the NCAA Tennis Selection Show on Monday, April 29 to determine who they will play in the first round of the tournament.