The quest for their 14th consecutive Big Sky title begins for women’s tennis

Patricia Carpenter

One of Sacramento State’s prominent athletic programs is close to fulfilling its quest to win a 14th consecutive Big Sky Conference Tournament title and NCAA tournament berth.

Their year has been a complete turnaround compared to the 2013-14 campaign for Sac State women’s tennis.

At this point last season, the team endured multiple injuries to key players in their lineup. Also, the Hornets dropped three conference matches by the end of the regular season, shattering their 112-match winning streak.

This time around, the women have remained healthy in singles positions one through three and have amassed an 11-0 Big Sky Conference record, creating a new mark of 14 consecutive conference victories.

“I’m very confident [in our team],” said Sac State’s No. 1 singles player, Alina Soltanici. “This year we are a lot more healthy, we’re taking care of ourselves and we’re resting properly. We have a pretty good lineup, our No. 3, 4, 5 and 6. All of our girls have been winning some crazy matches that have been important, so we can handle all of our conference matches.”

Their efforts have awarded them a bye in the first round of the Big Sky tournament, which the program is hosting Friday through Sunday at Gold River Racquet Club in Gold River, California. Sac State will play the lowest seed at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Dima Hrynashka, the women’s tennis coach, said the team will prepare for this match similar to how they have practiced all season long. He said if their method has been working, they will not have to fix anything.

“We’ll practice our regular way,” Hrynashka said. “I don’t want us to change. We’ll work on all kinds of games [such as] doubles, singles and some tactics each player will need.”

Despite UC Berkeley completing a clean 7-0 sweep of the Hornets on April 17, the women said they are prepared to shake it off and learn from their mistakes.

Freshman Ana Loaiza Esquivias was the only Sac State player able to win a singles set against Cal and hopes to carry her momentum into the postseason. She was edged out by the Bears’ Lyann Hoang 6-1, 4-6, 10-5.

“Playing against conference teams is always more pressure, but it’s good that we can handle it,” Loaiza Esquivias said. “I think we are doing pretty well. In conference matches we have been winning, so the team is working really hard in practice and it’s going to show [during the] tournament.”

Currently, the freshman is leading the team with her 17-7 singles record in positions three through six. The bulk of her success has come from playing as Sac State’s No. 4 singles player, with a mark of 6-1 in that spot.

The team’s toughest conference opponent this year proved to be the University of Idaho Vandals. Idaho (12-7, 9-1 Big Sky) is the No. 2 seed in the tournament and received its only Big Sky loss on Feb. 13 at the hands of Sac State when the Hornets beat them 4-3.

Sac State competed in a doubleheader on the road and Idaho was its second match of the day. The women were down 0-3 to the Vandals, but pulled out a come-from-behind win by taking singles matches three, four, five and six. Hrynashka said the team will be prepared to face those tough Big Sky competitors moving forward.

“I think how they worked during the season was enough to beat all of those teams and I don’t want to [try] any new experiments,” Hrynashka said. “[We’ll have] regular consistent practices to be ready for conference.”

Soltanici, who lost her singles match against the Vandals early in the season, has since bounced back and is 9-1 in Big Sky singles contests. The sophomore is 14-11 overall. She said the team is going to be mentally and physically sharp heading into the tournament.

“We’re going to rest properly and make sure we are ready for all of the matches,” Soltanici said. “I think we have pretty good chances to beat every team because we have confidence and we have to believe in ourselves.”

Her doubles partner, Deimante Bulatovaite, said she will be working on her game leading up to their match on Saturday.

“There’s a lot of things I can learn moving forward, especially finishing up the matches, attacking balls and finishing volleys,” Bulatovaite said.

Bulatovaite is Sac State’s No. 2 singles player and has tallied an overall singles record of 14-12. The sophomore is undefeated in conference with an 11-0 mark.

Bulatovaite and Soltanici attained an overall record of 9-11 in doubles this season and 5-5 in conference. The team’s doubles record is 24-9 in the Big Sky and 39-33 overall. The women said they have been productive in collecting wins in doubles lately because of their wins against Big Sky opponents.

“We’re doing pretty well in conference matches,” Bulatovaite said. “I think we will do good [in the tournament] because we only have one [true] freshman and she has enough experience already. Our team [consists of] juniors and sophomores, so the team should be solid.”

The three upperclassmen anchoring the team are juniors Olivia Boija, Jennifer Ong and Daria Savchenko. All three have combined for a singles mark of 16-3 in the Big Sky, predominantly playing in positions four, five and six. The women said their experience will be needed to attain their goal of winning the tournament again.