Ball State's tennis teams cruise to conference wins

Second-year Nathaniel Webster celebrates a point in a match against Binghamton April 14 at the Cardinal Creek Tennis Center. Ball State shut out the Bearcats 7-0 overall. Jacy Bradley, DN
Second-year Nathaniel Webster celebrates a point in a match against Binghamton April 14 at the Cardinal Creek Tennis Center. Ball State shut out the Bearcats 7-0 overall. Jacy Bradley, DN

In order for a collegiate tennis match to take place outdoors, the temperature must be 50 degrees or higher, and sustained winds must be less than 20 miles per hour. Because of this, Ball State Men’s and Women’s tennis have been indoors for its home matches this season. 

Both teams got to share the sunshine Friday as they each had 1 p.m matches at the Cardinal Creek Tennis Center in the team’s first home outdoor matches of the year. Second-year Elena Malykh noted that the women’s team rarely loses at Cardinal Creek, and that it was comforting to be back outside. 

“That was so great,” Malykh said. “It just felt amazing to be out here at Cardinal Creek. We love these courts so much and the atmosphere here is so great.”

Third-year men’s player Sajin Smith also reiterated the enjoyment players get out of being outside. 

“It felt so good. We’ve been inside so much this year unlike some previous years,” Smith said. “Really fun playing outside and getting some fans out here cheering. It felt great.”

Both groups put together team efforts to come out on top. 

Women’s Match

Ball State Women’s Tennis (17-3, 6-1 MAC) currently sits at second place in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) standings. Every match could be considered important if they want to keep pace, even if it’s against the Bowling Green Falcons (6-13, 0-7 MAC), a team that is winless in the conference. Friday, they did what they had to do, and breezed to a 6-1 win. 

Coming in, the Falcons had some close 4-3 losses against teams like Eastern Michigan and Miami. Coach Rifanty Kahfiani says not taking anything for granted was an important mindset to have. 

“It doesn’t really matter who we play. We always want to do our best,” coach Rifanty Kahfiani said. “Before the match, we always talk about the other team, but we always want to focus on how we go about that.”

Doubles play saw the Cardinals breeze to wins. The pairing of fourth-year Amy Kaplan and first-year Annika Planinsek won 6-0 on court one, while third-year Masha Polishchuk and fifth-year Allison Mulville took just 23 minutes to win 6-2 in second doubles. 

Three singles matches took under an hour to be completed, as Polishchuk and Mulville won on courts one and six respectively, while Planinsek won 6-0, 6-3 on court four. 

“Annika (Planinsek) has been working on transitioning into the net with purpose, and not just running in just because,” Kahfiani said. “Overall, I thought we were focusing on staying aggressive with positioning. It’s a whole ‘nother level when you control the court, and control your positioning.”

Elsewhere, fourth-year Jessica Braun had the closest match of the day, with a 7-5, 6-4 win on court three. On court five, Malykh cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 win. Malykh, one of Ball State’s most consistent players this year, had dropped her last two matches. Having her net play and serve back to a good place was important for her to get back in the win column. 

“I was working on being much more aggressive with my serve, with my volleys coming into the match,” Malykh said. “The last few matches I didn’t play badly but I failed in executing at the net. I’ve been working pretty hard on the practice court to do that better, and I think I did today.”

Just three matches remain for the Cardinals until the MAC Tournament. Since their loss on March 26 to Toledo, Ball State has taken care of business against teams they are supposed to beat. The program refuses to take matters easy against anybody because of the standard they’ve set for themselves.

“We keep ourselves to that standard, to stay composed in the match, to stay focused, (and) have tunnel vision on your match, but at the same time having fun with your teammates, and cheering them up if something doesn’t go as well as they want it to,” Malykh said. 

The Cardinals are back in action Sunday at Northern Illinois, with a 2 p.m. start time. 

Men’s Match

Ball State Men’s Tennis (12-9, 4-5 MAC) has been playing playoff tennis for around a week now. After their loss April 7 to Western Michigan, all of their matches became must-wins if they wanted any chance of making the MAC Tournament as the fourth seed.

The team defeated Northern Illinois on Sunday, and Friday, they did exactly what they needed to do. The Cardinals flexed their muscle against the Binghamton Bearcats (4-19, 0-9 MAC) in a 7-0 sweep. Head Coach Bill Richards says that the way the team has responded in the last two matches shows what they’re made of. 

“We’ve done what we’ve needed to do. The guys have certainly bought into just staying in the moment and not getting ahead of themselves,” Richards said. “You can use that as motivation, or you can feel the pressure, and crumble. Our guys have handled the pressure, are tough mentally and emotionally.”

Ball State was on the verge of dropping the doubles point early. Courts two and three split, and on court one, Fifth-year Danilo Kovacevic and second-year Nathaniel Webster were up 4-1 at one point, but found themselves down 5-4. They found a way to force a tiebreak, and dominate it, as they won it 7-0. Richards says not letting Binghamton gain any confidence right away was important.

“That definitely was big. I’m confident we would’ve bounced back in singles anyway, but that was definitely good to get that doubles point,” Richards said. 

Webster started off singles play with a 6-1, 6-0 win, and so did his doubles partner, Kovacevic, who won 6-4, 6-2. Fourth-year Eli Herran won 6-3, 6-3, and Broc Fletcher continued his success that he has found at sixth singles, as he pulled out a 6-4, 6-4 win. With the win, he improved to 4-1 on the season. Fourth-year Vince Orlando had to grab a first set tiebreak, but won a fairly close match at second singles by a score of 7-6 (7-1), 7-5.

At fifth singles, Smith faced off against fourth-year Dan Pergel of Binghamton. When the two teams met up earlier this year on March 24, Smith lost  6-1, 7-6 (8-6). Friday, he avenged that loss, and won in straight sets by a score of 6-2, 6-3. Smith is happy with the adjustments he made to come out on top and get the point for the team.  

“It was a rough one the first go around,” Smith said. “But it feels really good. Not just for myself but for the team. Good win at home, beating these guys, and then looking to build on this and keep going on Sunday.”

As it stands now, Ball State holds the fourth spot in the MAC standings. They have the same conference record as Northern Illinois, who has its last match of the season Saturday against Western Michigan. Even though that match will determine what Ball State will need to do in their match Sunday against Buffalo, Richards is focused on what his team needs to do to be successful. 

“I don’t care. I really don’t care who wins that match,” Richards said. We just want to keep our momentum going, and if Western would lose, then we have to win. I feel like we have to win on Sunday regardless of what the situation is. If Northern [Illinois] loses and we’ve clinched that fourth spot, I don’t think our guys are gonna play any differently on Sunday. 

Overall, it was a great day to watch Ball State’s tennis teams compete. It’s rare for both the women’s and men’s teams to be competing at home on the same day, much less the same time. Richards has seen a lot of tennis at the Cardinal Creek Tennis courts, but is appreciative of the opportunity to play outside every single time, and represent the school. 

“Honestly, this is like my second home. The hours I've personally spent here for the last more years than I want to talk about, I just love this place. It certainly means a lot to be out here, and this is what I associate with Ball State tennis, is this facility.”

Contact Caleb Zuver with comments at or on Twitter @zuves35


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