Second-place Matadors prepare for first-place UC Irvine

Debby von Winckelmann

The CSUN women’s tennis team spent spring break winning three conference matches and climbing to second place in the Big West Conference. The Matadors can move into a tie for first place with a win in their last conference match of the season against No. 37 UC Irvine on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Northridge Tennis Complex.

The Matadors are on a four-match winning streak that started with their win against Pacific on March 25. Last week the team beat Cal Poly 5-2 in San Luis Obispo on April 3 and came home to beat UC Santa Barbara 5-2 on April 5. The team wrapped up the week on April 7 with a 7-0 win against UC Riverside that included winning all six singles matches and three doubles matches. The Matadors are 9-5 overall and 5-1 in conference play.

“I’m very pleased that we’ve peaked at a good time,” said head coach Gary Victor. “We’ve picked April as the time for us to play our best which is really what college tennis is about.”

CSUN has been winning ever since Victor made changes to the doubles pairings on March 25. The decision was one that he had thought a lot about and one that could have had negative consequences.

“I was worried about the psyche of a couple of our athletes, but winning takes care of all that,” Victor said.

Getting that doubles point has made a big difference for the team, especially in terms of confidence.

“It’s only a point, but it’s a point that lifts spirits,” Victor said.

Senior Silvia Gutierrez agrees. After playing most of the season in the number one doubles spot partnered with junior Ana Matijasevic, Gutierrez is now paired with junior Kanykey Koichumanova and their record is 4-0.

“It’s working,” Gutierrez said. “If you win the doubles point it gives you more confidence for the singles. It’s given us more chances to win.”

That confidence has helped Gutierrez to win four straight matches in the number one singles spot for an overall record of 8-6 this season. Koichumanova has won 11 straight matches in the number two singles spot and has an overall record of 12-2.

“Kanykey has just been steady all along. She’s a rock of strength for us,” Victor said.

For junior Canna Furuta, the change in doubles pairings meant splitting from Koichumanova, her partner since last season when their record was 15-6 playing together.

“It was a change and it was difficult, but we had to do what was best for the team – to separate us to give us a better chance at winning the doubles point. And we’ve won every single doubles point since we’ve switched,” Furuta said.

Furuta is now paired with freshman Kristy Fournell and they have won all four of their matches playing together. Furuta has also done well at the number three singles spot, winning her last three matches for an overall record of 10-4.

“Canna has been another consistently outstanding player, outstanding worker, and outstanding student athlete,” Victor said.

Senior Sonya Kumar has also won her last three matches and has an overall record of 10-4 at the number six singles spot. Senior Kasia Krasinska is 6-8 at the number five singles spot and Matijasevic, who has struggled with injuries, is 5-9 at the number four spot.

“Everybody’s contributed. I’m proud of the whole team,” said Victor, who looks back at the Pacific match and Matijasevic’s dramatic win as a tuning point for the team.

“Of course, Ana started this whole thing by beating Pacific,” Victor said. CSUN has a chance to upset first place UC Irvine on Saturday, he added.

“I definitely think we have a shot to win,” Victor said. “We have to play energetically relaxed – that’s what we’ve been talking about. Bringing a lot of energy, a lot of feet, yet being relaxed and confident.”