For the second consecutive year, the Elon University women’s tennis team is headed to the championship match of the Southern Conference Women’s Tennis Championship. The Phoenix clinched a spot in the final with an impressive 4-3 win over top-seeded and nationally ranked Furman University April 18 at the Champions Club in Chattanooga, Tenn.
With the match tied 3-3, the fate of the season rested in the hands of Elon junior Barbora Lazarova. After dropping the first set of her match against freshman Karlee Bryde, 4-6, Lazarova responded with a 7-5 second set win before dominating the third set, 6-1, to send Elon to its second SoCon title match in the history of the program.
“[Lazarova] fought back hard in the second set and gained some momentum early in the third set that helped her a lot,” Elon head coach Elizabeth Anderson said. “I think the overall spirit within all of the girls helped her a lot as well.”
The drama started early, as a third match was needed to decide the doubles point. Senior Bryn Khoury and sophomore Taylor Casey won, 8-4, on court No. 3, but senior Jordan Johnston and Lazarova were slowed on court No. 1, 4-8, by the first-team All-SoCon pairing of junior Alex Moreno-Kaste and senior Katherine Oudin. On court No. 3, senior Frida Jansaker and junior Maria Camara Ruiz were able to edge freshmen Blair Martin and Ansley Speaks, 8-7, to give Elon a 1-0 lead.
Jansaker made it 2-0 Elon with a 7-5, 6-1 triumph over Moreno-Kaste, good for her 16th win in her last 17 singles matches. Martin followed by getting Furman on the board with a win on court No. 6 against freshman Tolley Rice to cut the Elon lead to 2-1. Khoury then answered with a win in straight sets on court No. 3 to make it 3-1 in favor of the Phoenix.
Camara Ruiz forced junior Kelly Sullivan to a third set on court No. 5, but eventually lost, 2-6, 6-1, 3-6, and Elon’s lead was back to just one, 3-2. On court No. 1, Johnston battled Speaks, who was named Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year by the SoCon. Johnston rolled to a 6-1 second set win to force a deciding third set, but Speaks prevailed to tie the match, 3-3, before Lazarova’s heroics clinched the win for the Phoenix.
The loss to Elon is Furman’s first SoCon loss of the season. The Paladins went 9-0 in SoCon play during the regular season before beating No. 9 Wofford College to earn a spot in the semifinal match. Furman entered this year’s tournament having won 10 of the last 16 titles, but will be left out of the championship match for the third straight season.
“I think we’ve been gaining some momentum throughout the tournament and each day has been better,” Anderson said. “We’re going to have a big test in front of us tomorrow and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
The Phoenix will make its second championship match appearance in as many years when the team takes on Samford University April 18. Both Elon and Samford are seeking its first SoCon Tournament title. The Phoenix lost the only matchup between the two teams this season April 5, a 5-2 decision. The championship match is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Champions Club in Chattanooga, Tenn.