The SIU women’s tennis team bounced back as the Salukis captured a split during a two-game series this weekend.
The matches began Saturday against the University of Memphis with a 1-6 loss at the University Courts and concluded Sunday against Chicago State University with a 6-1 win. After Sunday’s victory, the Saluki women are now 8-2 for their last 10 matches.
The play of junior Melanie Delsart sets the tone for the Salukis at the No. 1 singles spot. Delsart is on an eight-game winning streak, which includes a Saturday victory 7-6, 0-6, 10-7 against the 119th-ranked player in the nation, Memphis senior Tiffany Welcher.
Delsart said the ability to make adjustments and stay mentally focused helped her be successful.
“I am not playing at 100 percent physically, but I am playing better mentally than my opponents, and that is why I am winning,” Delsart said.
Despite Delsart’s win, the Salukis lost the match to the Tigers 6-1. The Tigers came into Saturday’s match ranked 55th in the nation and won all but one match during the contest.
No. 2 singles player Jennifer Dien lost 6-1, 6-3, No. 3 singles player Anita Lee lost 6-4, 7-5, and No. 3 singles player Natasha Tomishima lost 6-0, 6-3. All of their opponents were nationally ranked.
No. 5 singles player freshman Ariadna Cairo Baza lost 6-0, 6-2, and Gisela Cairo Baza was able to force a third set before losing 7-6, 2-6, 10-7.
Gisela Cairo Baza battled during the third set as Saluki fans and team members lined the far court in support. The twins both said they feed off fans’ energy, and they have become more comfortable with collegiate tennis.
“(Cheering) helps a lot,” Gisela Cairo Baza said. “I feel much more confidence now. My first match I was a little bit nervous, but I handle it better now.”
The Salukis also struggled during doubles play against the Tigers. Seeds one through three lost 8-3, 8-1 and 8-3, respectively.
Coach Audra Nothwehr said the Memphis players used strength to overpower the Salukis during the match.
“They poached well, they moved well, they got really tight to the net. I think we were just shocked by their power,” Nothwehr said. “Each one of them had huge forehands and serves, and that can really give you the advantage.”
Sunday’s match against Chicago State was the last non-conference home meet, as SIU will face two Missouri Valley Conference teams on the road next week.
The Salukis went into conference play on a high note, defeating the Cougars 6-1.
In singles, Delsart won 6-4, 6-4 at the No. 1 position. Dien lost at No. 2 singles 6-3, 6-4 in a match where she inconsistently placed her shots and committed several unforced errors.
But the singles players that remained defeated their opponents, all within two sets, and clinched the overall victory for SIU.
No. 3 singles Lee defeated her opponent 6-3, 6-4, and Tomishima won 6-1, 6-2 at four singles. Anastacia Simons won at fifth singles 6-1, 6-1, and Gisela Cairo Baza won as the sixth seed 6-1, 6-0.
Nothwehr said the team’s familiarity with Chicago State helped in its victory.
“We were able to be more aggressive today. Since we play this team every year, we knew a lot of their players, and knew we could win,” Nothwehr said.
As she heads into conference play, Lee said despite teams being familiar with one another, each season brings a different set of challenges.
“Our mindset is it’s a new year and it doesn’t matter what happened in the past,” Lee said. “Our confidence is high, so we’re going to come out and try to do really good in conference (play).”
Nothwehr said she has noticed growth from her young athletes since the start of the season, and with freshmen playing key roles, their play in conference will dictate how successful the team will be.
“You used to see them (freshmen) get really nervous in their matches,” Nothwehr said. “What I’m seeing now when they get into tiebreakers is that they know how to play the ball, how to play the important points, and they play so much smarter. You can see the experience.”