DePaul women’s tennis preparing for crucial Big East tournament

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It has been nearly four years since the women’s tennis team last made the NCAA tournament, dating back to the 2009-10 season.

Sitting at an 18-3 record and ranked No. 40 in the nation, DePaul has a chance at making the tournament once again. Still, head coach Mark Ardizzone and his team has one more obstacle ahead of them: the Big East championships.

The team travels to New York April 24- 27 to compete in what will be the biggest tournament of the season. If they win the conference, they will automatically clinch a berth to the NCAA tournament.

“I like that our team feels that we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Ardizzone said. “The girls set the goals for our team. I have nothing to do with it. We wanted to be a Top 40 team, want to win the Big East tournament and make it to the NCAA tournament. Those three things are right in their grasp.

“We really have to push forward to try and do it,” he said.

There are dangers that come with the trip. The team risks losing their Top-40 ranking if they suffer an early loss. DePaul was ranked No. 25 earlier in the season, but two back-to-back losses to top-ranked No. 26 Rice and No. 33 Houston have dropped the Blue Demons to No. 40.

“In the situation we’re in right now, we need to win to make the NCAAs,” Ardizzone said. “Usually the top 42, 43 teams make the NCAAs. We don’t have much margin for error. We’re going to be cutting it close.”

Cutting it close is an all too familiar feeling for this group of players. Last season, DePaul went 15-10 and suffered six of those losses 4-3, just one point.

With all of DePaul’s players returning from last season, finishing games have been a focal point. DePaul senior Kelsey Lawson said the experience from last season has helped the team grow.

“We knew what to expect,” Lawson said. “We’ve been in these situations before and when it happened again, we knew exactly how to handle it.”

Ardizzone agrees. He pointed to DePaul’s 16-game winning streak to the middle of the season as an area of growth. Of those 16 matches, DePaul swept 10 of them.

“As a college tennis player, (losing 4-3) is probably the toughest loss to take,” Ardizzone said. “When you lose 4-3, you question whether you did enough. It made every kid realize that every point matters.”

Each player returning has also developed a solid chemistry between the team. There are nine players on the roster, but only six have gotten constant playing time. Lawson, junior Patricia Fargas, junior Rebeca Mitrea and sophomore Zania Sufi all have over 20 wins on the year.

Sufi leads the team with a 27-8 record. Lawson slightly trails Sufi in wins with a 25-9 record while Mietra is third at 25-11. Fargas is 22-13.

“It’s such a team effort every match,” Ardizzone said. “Patricia and Zania are probably the two best players in the whole league. Every other player is gunning for them. If they can beat them, it’s their story for the season. They have a lot of pressure on themselves.

“Where we’ve been so dominant is in the four and five slot. Kelsey and Rebeca have won 55 of their 63 dual matches, which is unheard of,” he added.

Lawson, who recently became one of three players to win over 100 games in DePaul history, said that each player helps each other out. She’s been the senior leader of this squad, but added that it hasn’t been that much of a challenge.

“It’s been easy,” Lawson said. “What I love about college tennis is that you’re fighting for your teammates. You’re playing next to them and feed off each other’s energy. If they’re having a hard time, you can try to cheer them up. It’s all about feeding off each other.”

Another point of emphasis that Ardizzone has stressed to his team is history. After the Big East conference split from the college football-orientated schools, DePaul has a chance to clinch the first title in the new Big East, similar to how DePaul’s women basketball team was able to take advantage in their first season in the conference.

In fact, DePaul has never won a Big East championship-new or old. They reached the semifinals in two previous years.

“I never thought of it that way,” Lawson said. “We could be the first DePaul team to win the Big East championships and we really want to accomplish that … this is a chance to really prove ourselves.”