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 begin title quest against UTEP

No. 1 seed SMU looks for first C-USA title in program’s history

The Mustangs have concluded perhaps the most prolific regular season in their 36-year history, but the true test of their legacy begins this weekend when they compete in the Conference USA Tournament at Rice University’s Jake Hess Stadium.

SMU (24-2, 4-0) enters the competition as the No. 1 seed after recording the program’s best single-season winning percentage. However, last time the Mustangs held the top seed in the conference tournament, they fell to Rice in the title match in 2006.

The Owls, who also upset the Mustangs in the 2007 conference tournament, are the No. 5 seed and could potentially face SMU in the semifinals. The Mustangs draw the University of Texas-El Paso, a 4-1 winner Thursday over the Universtiy of Memphis, at 10 a.m. Friday. The defending champion, University of Tulsa, lurks as the No. 2 seed in the bottom half of the bracket.

The Mustangs have yet to win a conference tournament title or reach the NCAA Championships under third-year head coach Lauren Longbotham-Meisner. By virtue of its top-25 ranking, SMU is virtually guaranteed to achieve the latter.

Longbotham-Meisner was attending meetings in Houston on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Since a Feb. 26 victory at the No. 17 Arkansas Razorbacks, the Mustangs have soared from No. 69 in the country to No. 23. They are riding a 14-match winning streak, thanks partially to the infusion of young talent into the lineup.

SMU has posted a perfect 12-0 record since newcomers Marta Lesniak and Aleksandra Malyarchikova became eligible in late February. The freshmen, both of whom came from overseas, have produced an 11-0 record in No. 1 doubles, and both have earned national rankings in singles competition. Lesniak is the No. 58-ranked singles player, and Malyarchikova is No. 114.

However, the freshmen aren’t the only nationally recognized Mustangs.

The No. 3 doubles tandem of junior Nicole Briceno and senior Kseniia Tokarieva (18-1) carry a 13-match winning streak into the weekend, and the No. 2 team of senior Natalia Bubien and Pavi Francis is ranked No. 60 in the nation.

Tokarieva, the most recent recipient of the conference Player of the Week award, also is 15-1 in singles this year. Four different Mustangs have earned conference Player of the Week honors, with Briceno winning the award twice.

If SMU escapes Houston with the conference title, it may host the NCAA Championships’ opening rounds, which begin May 8. The top 16 teams in the country are chosen for that honor.

None of the current Mustangs have competed in the NCAA Championships. SMU has been only once since 1996, when they advanced to the second round in 2004.

UTEP advances to quarterfinals

The Miners (16-6) will be the Mustangs’ first opponent, after they easily dispatched Memphis in the first round.

SMU and UTEP have not faced each other since April 14, 2007, when the Mustangs crushed the Miners 7-0 on Senior Day.

On Thursday, UTEP captured the doubles point with victories in the Nos. 2 and 3 slots.

The No. 1 team of Weronika Bloczynska and Megan Prichard trailed 8-7 when the match was called.

Memphis’ Marjorie Ondeck recorded her team’s only victory, defeating Martina Trierweiler in straight sets in the No. 2 match.

Three others eliminated

Also Thursday, three teams moved on to the quarterfinals, narrowing the tournament’s field to eight teams.

No. 6 seed East Carolina edged No. 11 UAB 4-3 in the closest match of the day. The Pirates face the No. 73-ranked and third seeded University Marshall today.

No. 5 seed Rice faces No. 4 Houston after sweeping the University of Southern Mississippi 4-0 in an early match.

The University of Central Florida faces the two-time defending league champion Tulsa at 2 p.m. today after the Knights dispatched the University of Tulane 4-0 on Thursday.

The semifinals will be played Saturday, and the championship will be decided at 10 a.m. Sunday.

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