Women’s tennis team meets Virginia in NCAAs
By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State junior Marta Burak doesn’t know how the Penguins measure up to No. 3 Virginia in Friday’s first round of the NCAA women’s tennis tournament.
But she can’t wait to find out.
“I just want to see how the players from the bigger schools play,” she said. “I’m excited about it.”
Less than two weeks after winning the first Horizon League title in school history, the Penguins (14-11) will make their first NCAA appearance against the host Cavaliers (21-5), who won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
“We have to fight a lot,” sophomore Annina Brendel said. “We have to believe we can do something, because they’re really good. We have to play our best tennis, for sure.”
YSU has done that lately, winning six straight matches, including three in the Horizon League tournament. Burak, YSU’s No. 2 player, has won 13 straight matches, while Dominika Lackova, who plays No. 3 singles, has won 11 straight.
“Obviously Virginia is No. 3 in the country; they’re very, very, very good,” YSU coach Mickael Sopel said. “But if we can put them in position to have some pressure, where they’re not comfortable with what’s going on and have the momentum go our way, that’s when we don’t know what can happen.
“That’s the goal — to get to the position where things are going a little our way and then, push, push, push and see if we can make it.”
Regardless, YSU’s tournament appearance should be a big boost to the program, which already recruits internationally. Of YSU’s top six players, only No. 6 singles player Carolyn Jesko (Boardman) is from the United States. No. 1 singles player Margarita Sadovnikova is from Russia, Burak hails from Ukraine, Lackova is from Slovakia, Brendel is from Germany and No. 5 singles player Nehel Sahni is from India.
“When you build ... well, you can’t call it a legacy yet, but when you build some success with a team, other recruits are going to see that,” said Sopel, who is from Paris, France, and played collegiately at NAIA Lewis-Clark State in Idaho. “They’ll see there’s good things happening here, that we have a program that’s growing with a good group of girls.
“It’s a big deal to people coming to college when you’re able to win your conference and go to the national championships. Obviously it’s going to help us moving forward, but it’s going to keep the returning players motivated for next year, too.”
Tennis is one of the lowest-profile programs at YSU, but the Penguins are hoping the NCAA tournament appearance will build momentum for a facility upgrade. YSU’s outdoor courts are old and cracked and are located in a spot (adjacent to the WATTS and between Stambaugh Stadium and Beeghly Center) that would be ideal for a parking lot.
“New facilities would be nice,” Burak said, laughing. “Indoor courts, I wouldn’t mind.”
Added Sopel, “That’s another story, but obviously we hope this is something the administration is looking at. And not just the administration but the board of trustees. Hopefully they see our success and if we can keep performing at this level, I’d imagine it will have an impact on our resources and how much we have available.”
Friday’s other match in the Charlottesville regional features Kentucky (16-11) against Columbia (16-4). The two winners will play each other on Saturday at 3 p.m.