After narrowly falling 4-3 in last year’s championship match of the Southern Conference Women’s Tennis Championship, the Elon University women’s tennis team topped second-seeded Samford University, 4-2, in this year’s edition to clinch its first SoCon title in program history April 19 at the Champions Club in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“The championship match is a little bit different than any other match. It was nice to be able to channel that energy a little bit better [this year],” Elon head coach Elizabeth Anderson said. “The girls just really wanted it really bad and they fought for it. They were willing to put it all out there so that we could come away with the win, no matter what it took mentally, physically, or emotionally.”
With the fourth-seeded Phoenix leading 3-2 and just one point from a championship, senior Bryn Khoury and junior Maria Camara Ruiz were both in the third sets of their respective matches on court Nos. 3 and 5.
Khoury jumped out to a 4-0 lead in her third set match against junior Yasmeen Ebada, but it was on court No. 5 where history would be made. Camara Ruiz went up 4-2 in her third set against senior Emily Mallory, but Mallory fought back to tie the match at four games apiece. Camara Ruiz held serve to go up 5-4, then broke Mallory’s serve to clinch the match and the title for the Phoenix.
“Maria did a fantastic job,” Anderson said. “In that situation, she stuck to what she knew and what she needed to do to win. I’m really proud of her for fighting through it and staying positive.”
For the second straight match, the doubles point was highly contested and needed three matches to be decided. Elon’s top duo of senior Jordan Johnston and junior Barbora Lazarova kicked things off with an 8-5 win over Mallory and senior Kristin Lewis, but sophomore Taylor Casey and senior Bryn Khoury lost their match on court No. 3, leaving it up to senior Frida Jansaker and junior Maria Camara Ruiz on court No. 2. Jansaker and Camara Ruiz played Samford’s pairing of Ebada and sophomore Carita Moolman to a 7-7 tie and came away with the tiebreaker to give Elon a 1-0 lead.
“Winning the doubles point today was huge and set the momentum for us,” Anderson said.
Samford quickly evened up the match on court No. 1, where junior Stephanie N’tcha defeated Johnston in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2. Lazarova responded on court No. 4 by beating sophomore Jessica Northcutt, 6-3, 6-3, to put the Phoenix back in the lead.
Elon’s lead stretched to 3-1 after Jansaker rolled past Lewis on court No. 2, 6-1, 6-4, for her 10th straight singles win. But the Bulldogs would not go away quietly, as redshirt freshman Lauren Cabellero’s 6-3, 7-5, win over freshman Tolley Rice cut the Phoenix lead to 3-2 before Camara Ruiz’s win clinched the match.
“It was an outstanding team effort,” Anderson said. “Everyone contributed a lot to the win today.”
Jansaker was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament after winning all three of her singles matches and contributing to three doubles wins.
The loss is just the third of the season for Samford. The Bulldogs, ranked No. 73 in the nation in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings, had not lost a match to an unranked team (lost to No. 21 Auburn University Feb. 9, No. 68 Furman University March 29) prior to falling to the Phoenix.
Elon improves to 15-8 on the season with the win and earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the SoCon Tournament. The NCAA Tournament will be played May 9-20 at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga.
“We’re really excited about the NCAA Tournament,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be so exciting to be able to represent Elon and the SoCon. We look forward to seeing who we’re going to play in the bracket, so we’re really pumped about it.”
The 64-team field will be announced April 29 on the NCAA Tournament Selection Show. The event can be streamed live on NCAA.com.