BEAUMONT, Texas – The Texas A&M – Corpus Christi Women's Tennis team came up just short of their goal this season, falling 4-1 against Northwestern State in the finals of the Southland Conference Tournament on Sunday afternoon.
"These girls fought this whole year with so much character, and they were such a true team, and today was no different," said Director of Tennis Steve Moore. "They competed with all their heart, and I can honestly say this is one of the toughest losses that I've ever had in 20 years, because I thought these girls really deserved to go to the NCAAs.
"Sometimes in sports you just have to give the other team credit, and Northwestern State really deserves that. They rose up today and simply played a great college tennis match. They deserve to be congratulated, and we wish them the best in the NCAA Tournament representing the Southland Conference. Pat DuBois is a class act and a friend, and we congratulate him and his team."
The Islanders (17-4) lost the crucial doubles point to start the match, and they were not able to get back to level as Northwestern State (14-7) earned the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
"I can say this with great certainty, it was one of the great blessings I've ever had in my life and a privilege to be surrounded by such high-character girls with such wonderful, supportive families," said Moore. "This was one of the most special teams that I have been around, read about or heard other coaches talk about. I can honestly say that this will be a team that will be a true team for the rest of their lives. Honestly, they are some of the most high-character individuals that I've ever met in any area of life."
In doubles, the Islanders looked to be in good shape early, but they lost a thriller to fall behind 1-0 in the match.
Doris Kuselj and Stefania Nicolae fell by an 8-3 final, leaving it up to the final two courts to make up the ground for the Islanders. Sandra Burges and Chelsea Horan jumped out to a 6-3 lead, but the Lady Demons rallied for an 8-6 final to clinch the doubles point. Maider Martin and Mia Matuszak were locked into a 7-7 score at No. 3 doubles when play was stopped.
In singles, the teams were close early on, but the Islanders were unable to rally from the early deficit. Martin fell by a 6-2, 6-3 final at No. 2 to make it 2-0, and Kuselj came up short at 6-3, 6-0 in No. 1 singles to make it 3-0.
Horan got her team on the board with a 6-4, 6-1 final at No. 6 singles, but Burges fell by a 6-2, 6-2 final to give NSU the victory.
Celia Rodriguez Delgado was up 5-2 and had the advantage at No. 5 when play was stopped, while Nicolae had just started her third set at No. 3 singles when the match was clinched.
The Islanders finish with high hopes for next season after earning the best finish in school history both for the regular season and conference tournament this year on a young team that will lose just one player in their starting six.
"We have such a talented group returning," said Moore. "I think this group will be on a mission next year to get to the NCAAs for Mia, Leanne and Doris."
It was the final match in the careers of Doris Kuselj, Leanne Mascall and Mia Matuszak. They finished their Islanders careers as the winningest group of seniors in program history, and helped build it into one of the top teams in the Southland Conference.
"For Doris, Mia and Leanne, they can tell their children and grandchildren that they brought a program national respect and national prominence and made school history," said Moore. "They were the first ever team to see Islanders Women's Tennis crack the national poll in NCAA Division I. They played through injuries that most players would not have even attempted to play through, they were elite competitors, and they built a tradition for Islanders Tennis where the team comes first. I'll be using those three girls as examples for freshmen for a long time."
The team set a school record with 17 wins, and they have gone 33-9 over the last two seasons as they rose in the Southland Conference. They reached the NCAA national rankings for the first time in school history this year, earning a No. 60 ranking in their debut on the ITA rankings.
"We said today, don't remember the end, remember the journey," said Moore. "I can't talk highly enough about how these three seniors poured their heart and soul into making this team special.
"A lot of people worked extremely hard to get this team to the point that it's at. I want to take a moment to thank my assistants Megan Harless and Goncalo Figueiredo, our trainer Kali Forero and the other special people that work in this athletic department. These people gave all their heart for these girls, and these girls gave all their heart for Texas A&M – Corpus Christi. I'll never forget this team."
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Northwestern State 4, Texas A&M Corpus Christi 1
Beaumont Municipal Tennis Courts
No. 1 - Polina Konop def. Doris Kuselj 6-3, 6-0
No. 2 - Tatiana Larina def. Maider Martin 6-3, 6-2
No. 3 - Stefania Nicolae vs. Natalya Krutova DNF (2-6, 6-3, 1-0)
No. 4 - Andrea Nederostova def. Sandra Burges 6-2, 6-2
No. 5 - Celia Rodriguez Delgado vs. Olga Leyshyna DNF (6-4, 5-2)
No. 6 - Chelsea Horan def. Daniela Simonova 6-4, 6-1
No. 1 - Larina/ Nedorostova def. Kuselj/Nicolae 8-3
No. 2 - Krutova/Konop def. Burges/Horan 8-6
No. 3 - Mia Matuszak/Maider Martin vs. Amy Williams/Simonova DNF (7-7)