Women’s tennis looks to shake off slow start

Patricia Carpenter

When the 2015 preseason Big Sky Conference coaches’ poll came out in the beginning of January, it was no shock that the Sacramento State women’s tennis team was voted to land in first place.

The program is on pace to be crowned with its 14th consecutive championship title and NCAA Tournament bid, but the women haven’t displayed that prominence in their first two matches of this season. Injuries to key players and inexperience can be the blame for the slow start.

“We haven’t had many injuries until last year,” said Director of Sac State Tennis Bill Campbell. “We went 14 years with almost no injuries. Because of injuries we’ve had to experiment with the lineup.”

The Hornets (0-2) are mirroring their 2014 campaign by recording back-to-back losses, including a 5-2 loss to the University of San Francisco on Jan. 21 and a 7-0 sweep by San Jose State on Saturday.

Coach Dima Hrynashka said of the women’s performance that he doesn’t want to begin another 0-4 year. He believes with Jennifer Nguyen and Daria Savchenko back in the lineup the team will be stronger.

“We think they’re not ready,” Hrynashka said. “Daria [Savchenko] and Jennifer [Nguyen], I hope maybe in a few weeks they will start to play, but we have to be careful with their injuries. It’s important for us to have them in the middle and end of the season than playing them now.”

Nguyen has only competed in doubles matches this season. The captain is still nursing her right knee back to health after having ACL surgery in March of last year. She said after her first two appearances her knee is still not 100 percent ready, but mentally she is prepared to take back her No. 1 singles position.

“I felt really good, I was excited to get out and play. It’s been a long time,” Nguyen said. “My knee felt fine throughout the [doubles] sets. It’s been slowly progressing and it’s tough knowing where I’m at [mentally] and how ready I am to play singles, but only time will tell to see how ready I am [physically].”

Nguyen was 4-8 overall at No. 1 singles and 3-0 during Big Sky Conference action in 2014.

Savchenko has been battling tendinitis in her right shoulder. Last year, she split time with sophomore Alina Soltanici as the No. 1 player when Nguyen went down. She was the only Hornet to post a winning record in that position (5-2).

Junior Olivia Boija said it is crucial to have them both healthy and back in the lineup.

“I think we will become a really strong team [with them back],” Boija said. “We have a strong team now, but Jennifer she used to play No. 1, so she’s a really strong player and Daria also, who is a good doubles player. With them, it will make the team even better.”

Savchenko also won first team All-Big Sky honors for going 13-8 in singles and went 6-0 in conference. In doubles she racked up a 16-8 record.

In the past, the team’s niche has been in doubles, but this season the women have struggled and are off to an 2-4 start. Last year, they were 4-2 through two competitions and finished with an overall record of 51-31.

Junior captains Boija and Nguyen are the only duo who have wins in doubles (2-0). The two had commanding performances against the USF and SJSU (6-0, 6-1, respectively). Boija received an honorable mention award in 2014 for her 16-8 singles and 15-10 doubles records.

“Me and Olivia played well together. We haven’t played [together] too much before, so it was good to get our first wins,” Nguyen said. “We have known each other for two years now, so we feel comfortable working together, so [our start] is really good.”

Solantici has been holding down the No. 1 position due to Nguyen’s absence. In her debut season she earned All-Big Sky second team honors and held the best doubles record (20-6). In conference she was 7-2.

The sophomore was ranked No. 51 heading into their match against USF. She fought hard in both contests and forced her opponents into a third set, but couldn’t pull out a victory.

Both contests for the Hornets lasted about four hours long, which is deep for the women to play and the exhaustion factor kicked in for the younger players. Redshirt freshman Anna-Maria Nau, who took over No. 3 singles, had to be stretched out by trainers during her matches because of cramps. This year the freshmen –– Ana Loaiza Esquivias, Nau and Tori Trylovich –– have combined for a 2-4 singles record.

Campbell said the younger women are still inexperienced at this level of competition and will only progress once they receive more playing time.

“Because of injuries in the lineup, the fact that we had three freshmen, two sophomores and a junior I thought that they did very well. They competed hard,” he said. “I think they were in shape, but not in tennis shape. The way you get into tennis shape is by playing in matches.”

Hrynashka said he was confident the women would be able to get their first win against their causeway rival, UC Davis, on Friday.

The Hornets are set to face the Aggies at 1:30 p.m. at Rio Del Oro Racquet Club. The women will then start a six-game road trip and will not return home until Feb. 27.