By Ben Hercik
Prior to last season, the Cleveland State University women’s tennis team had made four straight runs to the Horizon League Championship semifinals, but could never get over the hurdle to get to the championship match, falling by one or two points each time. Last year, the team was able to get over that hurdle when they defeated Oakland University to get to the championship match.
The run came under the guidance of new head coach Frank Polito, who was only in his first season leading the team. While he was coming in as a head coach for the first time, Polito had been with the team for the past six years as an assistant for both the men and the women. It was clear to Polito that the talent was there for the Vikings to get over the hurdle of the conference semifinals. It was also the talent that was brought in as transfers and incoming freshman.
“The talent was already here, but last year there were five new players on the roster with three transfers and two freshmen,” Polito said. “The talent collective gave us that extra boost to take us to that next level. The experience and talent of the players is what made it possible.”
One of the transfers was senior Kateryna Avram, and her successful season was one of the reasons the Vikings broke through to the conference finals. Avram would win 27 matches to set the single season record for wins in a season. That record was really important to Avram because she didn’t want to let the team down, and the team really motivated her to play her best.
“I transferred here, and I really like the coach and the team, and it really helped me to play at my best,” Avram said. “I really wanted to get a point for the team every time, and it worked every time. So the team really helped me to that.”
The college tennis season is split between the two semesters of fall and spring. The fall season for the Vikings began with a trip to Mexico for the Iberostar College Cup. The tournament was invitation-only, and it was an opportunity to play both the University of Wyoming and Southeastern Louisiana University. This was an opportunity for team building and playing experience that coach Polito couldn’t pass up.
“We got invited to this tournament, and I heard a lot of good things about it, so I wanted to do a good team building tournament for the beginning of the year,” Polito said. “We got to play some teams that we never see in Wyoming and Southeast Louisiana. It was a great tournament and great experience for the players.”
At the tournament, freshman Prinkle Singh, in her first collegiate outing, went 2-1 including a hard fought 9-8(3) win over Maria Oreshkina of Wyoming on the second day of the tournament. There was also success on the doubles side of play, as the senior duo of Siân Payne and Blanche Leonan were able to go 3-0 over the three day tournament. Payne has found doubles success before as her and junior teammate Gaby Schoenberg were able to go undefeated in conference play as doubles partners. While they moved around the doubles lineup, Payne cites the fact that their result would determine which team got the doubles point as a confidence booster.
“We were tinkering around the doubles lineup to see what worked best, and we gained a lot of confidence each match,” Payne said. “A lot of the time, it came down to our match to see who would get the doubles point, and we were able to boost each other up a lot, and we gained a lot of confidence.”
After the trip south of the border, the team returned home to host the Viking Invitational from Oct. 4-6. Both Avram and Lenoan were able to go 2-1 in singles action, while on the doubles side, all three sets of Viking pairs were able to go 2-1, with the duo of junior Klara Mrcela and sophomore Lara Prosenjak being named the tournaments doubles champions.