After winning the 2022 Mid-American Conference regular season championship, Ball State Women’s Tennis (19-4, 9-2 MAC) hosted the MAC Tournament as the no. 1 seed April 30 and May 1.
The Cardinals took the courts at 10 a.m. April 30 against the no. 4 seed Buffalo Bulls (17-8, 6-4 MAC) in the semifinals of the tournament.
Ball State jumped in front early by sweeping the Bulls in doubles action. Senior Livia Lukacs and junior Jessica Braun shut out Buffalo fifth-year Gabriella Akopyan and senior Nikoleta Antoniou-Karademitrou 6-0.
Junior Emma Peeler and sophomore Mariya Polishchuk followed up the sweep with a 6-2 victory for the Cardinals over juniors Ambre Anat and Lolina Schietekat Sedas to lock up the first point of the match.
“I think Buffalo tried to feel us out in the beginning,” head coach Max Norris said. “They’re a hard team to play because they don’t give anything away and they are very competitive.”
After Buffalo tied the match at one point apiece on the singles court, Ball State took its second point of the match when Lukacs defeated Amat in two straight sets (6-2, 6-4) and junior Amy Kaplan added another point from the singles court with her sweep of Akopyan (7-5, 6-3).
Buffalo’s only other point Saturday was from senior Pia Schwarz’s sweep of Braun.
Desai’s three-set victory over sophomore Mariana Carvajal Torres sealed The Cardinals’ berth in the championship game.
Ball State faced off against Toledo (18-7, 7-3 MAC) in the championship match – Toledo’s first conference championship birth in program history.
After Lukacs and Braun defeated sophomore Julia Kuszynski and senior Christina Fuller 6-3 in the #3 doubles match, Kaplan and senior Hannah Davies defeated Toledo’s sophomore Cassie Alcala and junior Sloan Teske in the #1 doubles match to seal the doubles point. The Rockets earned a consolation set as graduate student Patricia Panta and sophomore Shalini Tallamraju defeated Polishchuk and Peeler 6-3 in the #2 doubles match.
“We've played so many matches close, and we were used to getting everybody's best shot,” head coach Max Norris said. “So I think everybody kind of knows like, you've got to focus on yourself. You can't be focused on the court next to you because there's so many momentum swings that if you're kind of living and dying by what's happening next to you you're gonna lose focus, you're gonna lose momentum.”
Toledo quickly evened the match out in singles play as Alcala defeated Peeler in the #1 signles match in two sets (6-2, 6-4) before taking the lead through Teske’s two-set victory (7-5, 7-5) in the #2 singles match over Polishchuk.
After Davies evened the match up for the Cardinals with a two-set sweep (6-3, 7-6) of senior Eileen Carney in the #5 match, Lukacs defeated Panta in two sets (7-5, 6-3) in the #6 singles match to restore Ball State’s lead.
After Kaplan fell to Tallamraju in three sets (7-6, 2-6, 6-1) in the #4 singles match, the championship rested on the #3 singles match between Braun and Kuszynski.
After Bruan won the first set 7-5, Kuszynski took the second set 6-4 before Bruan sealed Ball State’s second consecutive MAC Tournament Championship with a 6-4 victory in set three.
“I was speechless,” Norris said. “I mean, we've been through a lot. We had four players get ill or injured in five days last week. We went through a lot in two weeks and [I’m] just incredibly proud of, especially Jessica [Braun] at the end. Because she hadn't been playing her best tennis admittedly so and for her to be able to do that was amazing.”
Doubles partners on the court, Lukacs and Braun were named to the MAC All-Tournament Team during the awards ceremony following the match with Bruan being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“They had their ups and downs as a doubles team, and then they really found their way about mid-March and were just an absolute staple to our team in doubles,” Norris said. “You saw that today. I mean, they're so durable, they can do a lot of different things and their attitude, they're so competitive. For Livia, I mean, she was struggling a little earlier in the year, and for her just to come out and literally play six straight weeks of just amazing tennis. Just the best energy, the best attitude. I mean, I was really impressed by the two of them.”
In addition to the championship, the Cardinals earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“We just seem to take our rest day tomorrow to kind of enjoy the win and just regroup and rest our bodies and just get right back to work, do the same things we do compete hard and practice and keep pushing each other,” Braun said. “We have another opportunity to go out and play and we'll be ready for it wherever we go.”
Ball State will learn its tournament fate in the NCAA selection show, streamed live on ncaa.com May 2 at 6:30 p.m.