Youngstown State women’s tennis coach Mickael Sopel believes the best season in school history could lead to an even better one.
Making their first NCAA tournament appearance, the Penguins lost 4-0 to third-seeded and No. 4 Virginia on Friday in the opening round at the Snyder Tennis Center.
“Coming in as one of the [tournament’s] lower seeds, the way we competed is pretty amazing,” Sopel said. “These girls fought until the last ball.
“There’s no regrets with what we’ve done today. It’s amazing what we’ve done this season.”
The Penguins (14-12) dropped their match at No. 2 doubles 8-0 as the No. 7-ranked duo of Julia Elbaba and Rachel Pierson defeated Nehel Sahni and Annina Brendel.
At No. 1 and No. 3, the Penguins split the first two points and then won consecutive points to make the scores 5-3. At No. 3, Margarita Sadovnikova and Carolyn Jesko (Boardman) dropped their match to Danielle Collins and Maci Epstein by an 8-3 score. Dominika Lackova and Marta Burak held on but were trailing 6-3 as the Cavaliers (22-5) earned the point.
Virginia earned singles points by 6-0, 6-1 scores at No. 4 and No. 6 as Pierson defeated Brendel and Caryssa Peretz beat Jesko.
At No. 3, Lackova regrouped after a 6-0 opening set loss to No. 53 Stephanie Nauta, and had the second set tied at three. But Nauta won the final three points to clinch the match for Virginia.
Highlighting the effort was Sahni who jumped on Epstein to take the first set 6-4 and was down just 4-3 in the second set when the match was stopped. Sahni won the final three points of the opening set to earn the victory.
“For a freshman [Sahni] to finish a season like that is very encouraging,” Sopel said.
At No. 1, Sadovnikova battled Elbaba, who is ranked fourth in singles. Sadovnikova tailed 6-2, 5-0 in her final collegiate match to one of the top players in the nation. At No. 2, Burak hung tough with Collins, who is No. 32, trailing 6-3 and 2-1.
YSU loses its No. 1 and No. 6 singles players, but Sopel believes the team will be better and deeper next season.
“There were a lot, lot, lot of positives [this year],” Sopel said. “It’s very encouraging for the next step of the program. Maybe we can break the top 75 [in the rankings] next year and try to take it to the next level. Hopefully we can win the conference again and enter next year’s tournament as a higher seed and play a lower seed.”