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


Mustangs win conference championship

Having not lost a match since mid-February, the SMU women’s tennis team rode a wave of solid play and momentum into Houston over the weekend as the No. 1 seed in the Conference USA Championships. And for the first time in over 20 years, the Mustangs, ranked No. 23 nationally, returned home with a conference title.

“I knew going in that if we played to our potential, we’d win this,” said head coach Lauren Longbotham-Meisner. “We were in the right mindset, we felt good. It was a great weekend.”

As the top seed in the tournament, SMU (27-2) received a first-round bye before taking on the University of Texas-El Paso (15-7) Friday at Rice’s Jake Hess Tennis Stadium.

The No. 28 freshman doubles duo of Marta Lesniak and Aleks Malyarschikova paired up to beat the Miners’ Weronika Bloczynska and Megan Pritchard (8-2) in the top spot.

Senior Natalia Bubien and junior Pavi Francis followed suit, also picking up an 8-2 win over their UTEP counterparts to secure the doubles point.

The quick start was a trend that continued through the weekend for the Mustangs.

“What stands out most is our doubles play,” Longbotham-Meisner said. “That set the tone in every single match.”

Lesniak – ranked as the No. 60 individual player – went on to defeat Bloczynska (6-0, 6-1) in the top singles spot. Seniors Kseniia Tokarieva and Kristen Reid also picked up convincing wins in the fifth and sixth spots, respectively, to cap SMU’s 4-0 victory over the Miners.

Facing the host Rice Owls (13-12) in Saturday’s semifinals (held indoors at the Galleria Tennis and Athletic Club due to inclement weather), the Mustangs again came out swinging in doubles competition.

Recently moved up to No. 74 in the national rankings, the tandem of Bubien and Francis jumped to a 5-0 lead over the Owls’ Rebecca Lin and Jessica Jackson, easily winning the match (8-3).

Their victory set the stage for Lesniak and Malyarschikova, who nailed down the point by defeating Rice’s Ana Guzman and Julie Chao (8-4).

“We came out with fire and vengeance in doubles,” Longbotham-Meisner said. “By the time we got to singles, the opponents looked shell-shocked.”

Lesniak beat Chao in the No. 1 spot (6-2, 6-3) before Malyarschikova did the same to Guzman at No. 3 (6-3, 6-4). It was Malyarschikova’s 12th consecutive win as the Minsk, Belarus, native improved to 8-0 in the third spot.

Junior Nicole Briceño split the first two sets against Lin (6-1, 5-7), coming back to win the tiebreaker (6-2) and send SMU to the finals for the first time in three years.

In 2006, it was Rice who upset the higher-seeded Mustangs by a score of 4-1 to capture the conference crown.

This time around, it was two-time defending conference champions Tulsa (23-5) providing the opposition in Sunday’s final round.

“It’s natural to feel under pressure,” Longbotham-Meisner said of her team heading into finals. “They were able to stay focused and thrive at it.”

Back outdoors at Jake Hess Stadium, SMU continued its trend of dominating doubles play, beginning with the No. 3 duo of Briceño and Tokarieva. The pair made quick work of the Golden Hurricane’s Rebecca Row and Alexandra Kichoutkin (8-2), and now holds a record of 21-1 as doubles partners.

The No. 74 team of Bubien and Francis locked up the doubles point for the Mustangs with an 8-2 victory over Tulsa’s Jie Zeng and Anastasia Erofeeva. Bubien helped secure the win even after suffering a bee sting in the 10th game.

Longbotham-Meisner saw the same drive and intensity present in the doubles competitions spill over into the team’s singles matches.

“They played very aggressive,” she said. “It got to the opponent mentally.”

In the sixth singles spot, Tokarieva won in straight sets against Tulsa freshman Ewa Szatkowska (6-0, 6-1). Tokarieva is now 14-0 at No. 6.

The Hurricane got the point back, however, when SMU’s Francis fell to Erofeeva in the fourth spot (6-0, 6-1).

Malyarschikova’s win at No. 3 over Tulsa’s Thalia Diaz-Barriga (6-2, 6-0) left the Mustangs just one point away from their first conference crown since 1988, when SMU was a member of the Southwest Conference.

The top singles spot – featuring No. 60 Lesniak against Hurricane sophomore Kichoutkin – proved to be the title-clinching matchup. Lesniak improved her record at the No. 1 spot to 12-1 with a straight-set win over Kichoutkin (6-2, 6-2).

With the final-round victory, SMU pushed its program-best winning streak to 17 matches. The team also established new benchmarks for overall record and wins in a season.

Reflecting on her team’s rise from an injury-plagued 2008 season to the C-USA Championship in 2009, Longbotham-Meisner admitted, “It hasn’t really set in yet.”

As for her team, she said, “I’m really proud of them … they deserve it. All 12 of them worked extremely hard this year.”

The Mustangs enjoy two weeks off before competing in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Championships May 8-10. The team’s opponent, location and time have yet to be determined.

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