The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Mustangs surging

The SMU women’s tennis team will rest this weekend before its final regular-season game against the Rice Owls on April 12. And while the match will be held at Houston’s Jake Hess Tennis Stadium, the Owls’ home-court advantage may not be enough to top one of the hottest teams in the nation.

The No. 24 Mustangs (23-2) set a new high for wins in a season with a 4-0 victory over No. 66 Wichita State on March 29. It was the team’s 12th consecutive win and ninth straight against a ranked opponent.

With the Conference-USA Championships just around the corner, SMU appears poised to ride the recent wave of winning momentum right into the NCAA Championships in early May.

“If we don’t win, it’ll be a disappointment,” said head coach Lauren Longbotham-Meisner.

“Our goal was to be in the Top 25, now we want to make the Top 16. We’re not putting limits on ourselves.”

The Mustangs’ jump into the Top 25 comes just one year after an injury-plagued 2008 season, in which the team finished with an 11-10 record. After a 4-2 win over Southern Miss in the quarterfinals of the 2008 conference Championships, the team fell to eventual tournament winner Tulsa by a 4-0 score.

Senior co-captain Monica Neveklovska was relegated to watch the matches from the bench after tearing her ACL earlier in the season.

“Looking back on it was pretty horrible with all the people that got injured – me being one of them. Sitting there and watching was tough,” she said.

Senior Kseniia Tokarieva was also sidelined for the season after suffering an injury in early March.

But as Neveklovska explained, both have rebounded from their injuries for the 2009 schedule. She and coach Longbotham-Meisner give credit to team trainer Jeff Mattis for the quick and successful recuperations.

“He is great,” Neveklovska said. “The ACL is supposed to take like nine to 12 months to rehab, and I did it in about six months. He was aggressive with the rehab, but he made sure it wasn’t just for the short-term, but for the long-term as well.”

Fellow senior Kristen Reid attributes part of this year’s achievements to having a healthy squad.

“We had so many injuries, and that really kept us from reaching our full potential,” she said. “There were a lot of setbacks throughout the last couple of years … and it’s finally all come together into quite a successful run.”

So successful, in fact, that SMU garnered four consecutive Player of the Week honors in February and March.

Junior Nicole Briceño, the 2008 conference Newcomer of the Year, was recognized on Feb. 10 and 24, while senior co-captain Natalia Bubien was honored with the award Feb. 17.

On March 3, freshman standout Marta Lesniak was named Player of the Week after leading the Mustangs to triumph over No. 17 Arkansas. The Wroclaw, Poland native earned her first career singles and doubles wins over nationally ranked opponents en route to SMU’s upset over the Razorbacks.

According to Longbotham-Meisner, the win was especially meaningful to her seniors, some of whom she helped recruit while serving as the team’s assistant coach.

“The people I’m most happy for are my seniors,” she said. “After the win against Arkansas, I got a bit teary-eyed because I knew how hard they had worked. We have been through so much with these seniors. It’s really a testament to their resiliency that they just kept pushing forward.”

Neveklovska deflected the attention back to her head coach.

“She’s a very good coach, but also cares about you as a person,” she said. “So having someone there that cares about you and not just your tennis really helps. It just helps you to be a better player and a better person.”

Longbotham-Meisner pushes her athletes to shine on the court as well as in the classroom. To that end, 11 of the 12 players on this year’s team have been named to the conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll. In addition, Bubien and Tokarieva were awarded the Commissioner’s Academic Medal. Bubien has won the medal in each of her four years at SMU.

As for Tokarieva, she was named conference Player of the Week on Tuesday after compiling a 3-0 doubles record while going 2-0 in singles play across the Mustangs’ last five wins.

And the pieces appear to be in place for more SMU wins as the weeks progress. While the Mustangs have reeled off 12 straight victories since mid-February, Rice (10-10) has gone 2-7 in that span.

“Rice is always tough competition,” Neveklovska said. “They’re always a tough team … so we definitely can’t take them lightly.”

After facing the Owls, the team will have a week to prepare for another trip to Houston for the conference Championships.

“If we play like we’ve been playing,” Reid said, “we shouldn’t have a problem. But then again, you never know how those things are going to end up. People can step up to the plate at conference, so that’s something you have to acknowledge.”

As confident as Longbotham-Meisner is about her team, she also realizes the importance of not letting up at this point in the season.

“We can’t expect to win,” she said. “We still have to play hard.”

But that doesn’t stop her – or the team – from setting their sights high.

“My main goal is to win a national championship at SMU,” said Longbotham-Meisner.

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