The Mid-American Conference (MAC) women’s tennis champions will get a chance to defend their crown Sunday and go back-to-back in the MAC Tournament.
Ball State (21-3, 9-1 MAC) advanced to the MAC championship finals April 29 after defeating the Buffalo Bulls (20-9, 6-4 MAC) by a score of 4-0.
With the Cardinals hosting the tournament, the match was held at the Cardinal Creek Tennis Courts. This marked just the second time Ball State has been able to play outside at home this season, however, weather still played a factor all day. It reared its ugly head early in the day, as the match was pushed back from a 2 p.m. start, to a 3 p.m. start.
The Bulls came in as the underdog number No. 3-seed and did everything in their power to catch Ball State off guard. The doubles point started with graduate student Pia Schwarz and senior Arza Deniz Comlek of Buffalo winning 6-0 at the first doubles against fourth-year Amy Kaplan and freshman Annika Planinsek.
Third-year Masha Polishchuk and graduate-student Allison Mulville were down 3-2 at one point but came back to win 6-3 on court two. It came down to fourth-year Jessica Braun and Emily Desai on court three, who won by a 6-4 decision. Fifth-year Livia Lukacs, who has helped coach all year due to an injury she suffered pre-season, said she was proud of how the team responded after seeing how the Bulls started the match.
“I think we didn’t have the best start in doubles,” Lukacs said. “Just to find a way to win, find a way to get back one more ball, I think that’s what decided the doubles match for us, how we stuck together.”
Sticking together was a key theme throughout the day. As singles matches were nearing a close, storms started to close in. The teams had to pack up everything, get in their cars and buses, and take the five-minute drive down Bethel Avenue to the Northwest YMCA, where the match could be finished indoors. Ball State didn’t let the change of scenery affect their ability to close out the match
After missing the Cardinals’ last match against Miami, and struggling in her doubles match, Kaplan came back with a vengeance. She played three singles and wasted no time putting up 6-3, 6-1 win. Second-year Elena Malykh didn’t play with her food either on court six, as she won both sets by a score of 6-1. Polishchuk played Schwarz on court one, and it was a battle, with both of them refusing to give an inch. Polishchuk came through with the match-clinching win, as she won 6-4, 6-4. After winning MAC Co-Player of the Year honors earlier this week, these are the types of matches she thrives in.
“She’s able to play very consistently. She attacks the ball, plays smart, and is cohesive,” Lukacs said.
The team didn’t miss a beat once they arrived at the Northwest YMCA. It’s different playing outside than inside, especially when you’ve been playing outside for over an hour and a half, and have to finish out just a few games indoors, but Lukacs was proud of the way the Cardinals handled it.
“I think we were ready for it. I think we took it to our advantage,” Lukacs said. “We just rolled with the punches…we stepped up our game to indoor tennis and I think it worked out in the end.”
The win sets up a match between Ball State and the Toledo Rockets. Ball State’s only loss in the conference came against Toledo back on March 26. Since then, the Cardinals have won eight in a row and will look to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year.
“I’m just most excited to see us bond together tomorrow, (and) play our best tennis,” Lukacs said. “I think if we are giving our best, playing good tennis, bringing good energy, then we are going to be proud of the team.”
The first serve is scheduled for 12 p.m. if the match is outdoors at Cardinal Creek, and 2 p.m. if the match is at the Northwest YMCA.
The Daily News requested to speak with any member of the coaching staff or any player following the match, but Ball State Sports Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Paula Haughn told the Daily News that coaches were not available for comment and there would only be an interview with Lukacs.
Contact Caleb Zuver with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @zuves35