OKLAHOMA CITY (Feb. 3, 2013) – Oklahoma Christian’s final women’s tennis season in the NAIA was its best ever, with the Lady Eagles advancing to the national semifinals for the first time.
As the Lady Eagles prepare to play in NCAA Division II this season, the question will be whether they can build on that momentum while making the step up in competition with what will mostly be a new lineup. The Lady Eagles will open the season on Saturday in Abilene, Texas, against NCAA Division III Trinity (Texas).
Head coach Kris Miller’s two student assistants, Maxim Salitra and Renardy Guelfi, seem confident that those now in OC’s program will continue to keep it at a high level.
“The first three or four matches will tell, and we can make better predictions,” Salitra said. “They have to learn it’s not only an individual effort, it’s a team effort.”
OC lost only one senior off last year’s team, Marta Contel Miranzo, but the Lady Eagles’ top two players, Hermon Brhane and Lucie Sipkova, transferred to Oklahoma and California (Pa.), respectively, while No. 3 singles player Andreea Constantinescu left the program.
Two veterans return – junior Maryfer Abreu Roman and sophomore Gabriela Carrillo – and Miller tried to rebuild his lineup around them, signing five newcomers, one a junior-college star.
That player, junior Barbora Bozkova, was the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I runner-up at No. 1 singles last year while playing for Laredo (Texas) Community College. She will hold down the No. 1 singles position in OC’s lineup.
In Bozkova’s first action for the Lady Eagles, she reached the semifinals of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Division II South Central Regional this past fall. She enters the spring ranked No. 19 in NCAA Division II in singles.
“She’s very complete,” Guelfi said. “She has all the shots. She has experience. She might be better in doubles than in singles.”
The other four newcomers – Gisela Castany, Bright Phakamad, Angie Torres Quezada and Rebeca Aguilar Dominguez – all are freshmen, which means they’ll need to learn about the college game on the fly.
“It’s tough to say what they will do,” Guelfi said. “We’ve got to wait on them. Maybe some of them are more competitive than they are in practice. We just don’t know.”
Castany likely will begin the spring at the No. 2 singles position. The rest of the lineup order probably won’t be determined until just before the opening match. Last year, Abreu Roman played at No. 4 and Carrillo played at No. 6 and both fared well. Carrillo provided the decisive team point during a national quarterfinal match against Azusa Pacific (Calif.).
“It’s good to have experienced girls like Maryfer and Gabi who have played at nationals and who know what is expected of them as individuals and as part of the team,” Salitra said. “They can communicate that to the rest of the girls.”
The doubles pairings also still are to be determined, although it seems certain Bozkova and Torres Quezada, who are ranked No. 13 in Division II in the preseason after reaching the regional title match last fall, will be paired together.
“We’re still trying to determine the best chemistry and combinations,” Salitra said.
Miller traditionally has scheduled tough in an effort to prepare the Lady Eagles for the rigors of the postseason and this year is no different. OC will face no fewer than nine teams in the preseason ITA Division II rankings, including four of the top six – No. 3 Abilene Christian (Texas), No. 4 Lynn (Fla.), No. 5 Barry (Fla.) and No. 6 Hawaii Pacific.
OC will play just three home matches at Oak Tree Country Club in Edmond this season, all during a 10-day span in April.
“There won’t be any easy matches against the good teams,” Salitra said. “That’s a fact. They know that and in a lot of ways, that’s good. It makes them more competitive and try harder and put in even more effort.”
With OC ineligible for the NCAA Division II postseason, the university joined the National Christian College Athletic Association, along with several former top NAIA tennis schools, including Southern Nazarene, Azusa Pacific and Fresno Pacific (Calif.). At the end of the regular season, it’s likely the Lady Eagles will play in the NCCAA Championship, which will be held at the same site as the NAIA event – Mobile, Ala.