Sac State women’s tennis’ season ends after Big Sky Championship loss

Patricia Carpenter

For 13 seasons Sacramento State women’s tennis dominated the Big Sky Conference, but it all came to an end on Sunday after conference newcomers, the University of Idaho Vandals, squandered the Hornets’ chance of winning their 14th tournament title.

Idaho joined the Big Sky this season after leaving the Western Athletic Conference in 2014.

Director of Sac State tennis Bill Campbell spoke about the streak being snapped after his team’s loss.

“It’s disappointing,” Campbell said. “I know they’re disappointed. Nobody wants to be the team to lose the streak.”

Sac State was crowned the regular-season champions, staying undefeated with a perfect 11-0 Big Sky record. That included the team’s 4-3 win over Idaho on Feb. 13 in Cheney, Washington.

Unfortunately, the Hornets were unable to pull off a huge comeback like they did against the Vandals earlier this year when the team started off down 3-0. This time around, Idaho got its revenge and beat Sac State 4-3 in the conference championship on Sunday.

The women will not move onto the NCAA tournament and ended their season with an overall record of 17-11 and a Big Sky mark of 12-1.

Campbell said the competition between the two teams was even during the singles matches and acknowledged Idaho’s talent.

“I thought it was a really well-contested match on both sides, and they played slightly better at the end than we did,” Campbell said. “It was a really tough match for everybody. I’m looking forward to them [next season]. It’s kind of fun to have good competition.”

The heartbreaking, decisive point came when Idaho’s Lucia Badillos overpowered Sac State’s junior captain Olivia Boija 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in singles position No. 6 to give the Vandals their automatic NCAA tournament berth. Boija was ahead of Badillos in the second set 5-2 until her opponent rallied to win the set and forced a third.

Last year, Boija found herself in the same situation in the conference final when she faced the University of Montana’s Laurence Pelchat in singles No. 4 and clinched the final point for Sac State’s 4-3 win and 13th consecutive title.

Boija finished the season 6-2 in conference and 11-13 overall.

Dima Hrynashka, the women’s coach, said both teams came out and played competitively, but the Vandals were able to pull off the upset.

“It was a great match,” Hrynashka said. “It was great singles, doubles I think. It was really good on each court––the matches. All points and all sets looked really good. Idaho showed good tennis, and I congratulated them.”

Moving forward, the team said they will work harder to avenge the upset.

“Unfortunately, we did not win our match, which is really sad because we fought really hard and we really wanted to win it, but not everything went as well as we wanted to,” said Alina Soltanici. “We were really close … they were good as well, they were good players and we need to work hard to make not this happen next year.”

With the pressure on and the title in jeopardy, Soltanici pulled out a remarkable come-from-behind 7-6 (7-5) win in singles No. 1 after being down 4-1 in the first set. The sophomore won the tiebreaker in the first set and dominated Idaho’s Galina Bykova in the second, winning 6-3. This put Sac State back in the competition, evening the score at three-all.

“I played really well, and I did a really good job,” Soltanici said. “I lost to this girl earlier in the season, so this was very important to me to beat her.”

The sophomore ended the year with a 16-11 overall record and 9-1 Big Sky mark.

The Hornets were quick to pull out the doubles point in their match, with juniors Boija and Jennifer Ong beating the Vandals’ Bykova and Emmie Marx 8-1 in No. 1 doubles to get the first doubles win.

Ana Loaiza Esquivias and Daria Savchenko followed with their 8-4 win over Badillos and Rita Bermudez. At this point, Sac State was up 1-0 and earned the point in under 45 minutes of play.

Sac State finished 51-31 overall in doubles play and 24-6 during conference action. 

Singles proved to be difficult this time around for the Hornets as redshirt freshman Anna-Maria Nau took the first loss for the women, losing 7-5, 6-3 to Marx. Nau was ahead 4-1 before Marx rallied to pull out the win in the first set.

In singles No. 4, Ong fell to the Vandals’ Bermudez 6-2, 7-5 to put Sac State at a 2-1 disadvantage. The junior did not participate in singles on Saturday during the Hornets’ 4-0 win over Northern Arizona University in the Big Sky semifinal round. She took Savchenko’s place in the lineup.

Matches on courts one, three, five and six were still in progress after Ong’s loss.

In singles No. 3, Bulatovaite finished off her opponent in straight sets 6-4, 7-5 to give the Hornets equal advantage in the match at 2-2. However, Loaiza Esquivias could not hold on to her singles match in position No. 5 and put the women at a 3-2 deficit after her 6-3, 0-6, 7-5 loss.

Soltanici’s efforts were not enough to save the team from their demise against the Vandals after Boija was dispatched by Badillos.

Next season, Hrynashka hopes the women will come back stronger and healthier, so they can recreate their previous accolades and earn another Intercollegiate Tennis Association Division I women’s tennis ranking.

“All girls are coming back and I hope they will work really hard over summer,” Hrynashka said. “It will be a better quality of game on each court.”