CSUN women’s tennis off to hot start

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Connor Clark

Sasha Turchak connects with the ball in a home game against University of Hawaii on April 24, 2022, in Northridge, Calif.

Edward Segal, Sports Editor

Four events in, CSUN women’s tennis has demonstrated its depth on the court as multiple players have come through to win their respective brackets for the Matadors.

The Matadors won all three doubles matches against Biola University at the Pomona-Pitzer/Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Invitational, the first event of the season. They had similarly successful results in singles, winning 19 out of 26 matches in the event, wrapping up day one undefeated.

The 12-player roster followed that up with two tournament victories in doubles play. They also earned seven top-two singles finishes in the next two tournaments, while winning two of the finals matches. This included a bracket in the Long Beach State Tournament in which Matadors Vitoria Solis Urdiales and Tallia Harper both made the finals.

“The on-court success has been nice, but more than anything, it’s been the way the team is cohesive, the way the team holds each other accountable in a positive way,” said CSUN head coach Gary Victor. “I think everybody has big goals and is taking big steps to make them come true and to give themselves a chance to reach those goals.”

The team captains, Sasha Turchak, Victoria Santibañez Luna and Jolene Coetzee, who are all in at least their fourth year of playing college tennis, have each made the finals in at least one bracket so far, with Santibañez Luna and Coetzee having won a doubles tournament. Turchak made the finals in the black singles flight of the Long Beach State Tournament, where she lost to Natasha Puehse of Grand Canyon University.

“Sasha is just an incredible player,” said Victor. “She probably wants it as much as anyone I’ve ever seen, as far as her fight and her will. Victoria is such a high achiever for putting in the extra work and Jolene is one of the top players we’ve ever had. She’s suffered through some unfortunate injuries the last two years and she really wants to make the best of her fifth year.”

Coetzee’s latest setback came in the spring when she underwent wrist surgery, which kept her out of competition until the second tournament this season. She has only played in doubles so far, partnering with freshman Angela Ho to win the black flight at the Long Beach State Tournament.

CSUN women’s tennis welcomed five newcomers to the roster this year. Each of them has made the finals in singles play at least once in their first two tournaments.

“All our freshmen bring a fantastic energy,” Victor said. “They love tennis. They are hard workers and great teammates. So, they’ve really become part of the team in a hurry and were accepted by the returners for all those good reasons.”

First-year player Emma Moratalla Sanz has had a particularly strong start to the season, bringing home the lone singles tournament win for the Matadors in the black bracket of the San Diego State Fall Classic I. She also shined at the Pomona-Pitzer Invitational, winning both of her singles matches and all three doubles matches at the tournament.

“I don’t think a lot because I’m new here,” Moratalla Sanz said. “I focus myself on the court and on my game. I am not thinking about the people playing against me so I think that helps me a lot because I’m more focused on the game and I’m not overthinking other things.”

First-year Matadors Ho and Sofia Dermenjyan each won two singles matches to make a finals appearance in their respective tournament brackets. The pair ran into players from CSU Long Beach and were unable to beat them. Ho played three close sets to beat Sheena Masuda of CSU Long Beach in the semifinals of the SDSU Classic before losing to Masuda’s teammate, Hana Becirovic Novak, in the finals. Dermenjyan made the finals in the Long Beach State Tournament, beating CSU Fullerton’s Mariia Nikitash in three sets in the semifinals before falling to Doga Akyurek of CSU Long Beach in the finals.

Solis Urdiales and Harper met each other in the finals of the gold flight at the Long Beach State Tournament, combining to beat six players from four universities to claim the mutual title.

The other four members on the roster, sophomores Cindy Ung, Jasmine Tolmoyan and Jacqueline O’Neill, as well as redshirt sophomore Yuliia Zhytelna, have had mixed outings through the first two tournaments.

Zhytelna lost only one game in her first two singles matches of the season, shutting out her opponents in three of the sets. She lost her third singles match of that invitational, but had a solid impact in doubles, winning all three matches at the Pomona-Pitzer and making the semifinals in each tournament, with Sanz and Turchak, respectively.

O’Neill has struggled for the Matadors, falling into the consolation bracket in singles and doubles in multiple tournaments so far. She recovered for a win at the Long Beach State Tournament, but was unable to at the SDSU Fall Classic.

Ung has had similar struggles in singles play but teamed up with Turchak to make the finals of the doubles red bracket at the SDSU Fall Classic, before losing to Thassane Abrahim and Veronika Lebisova of UTEP.

Tolmoyan beat Maria Frampton from Gonzaga University in the singles quarterfinals of the Long Beach State Tournament, earning fourth in her bracket after losing in the semifinals and third-place game. She then teamed up with Frampton for doubles play, falling into the consolation bracket where they beat fellow Matadors O’Neill and Dermenjyan.

As the Matadors prepare for their last tournament of the semester, they are hoping to keep the momentum rolling and prove themselves on the stages that await.

The Matadors just finished the ITA Southwest Regional, in which Coetzee, Santibañez Luna, Turchak and Zhytelna participated in singles. The doubles pairings for CSUN were Coetzee and Ho, Zhytelna and Turchak, and Ung and Santibañez Luna. The event was held in San Diego from Oct. 20-24, and featured many of the top teams in the country.

“This is one of the tough, tough tournaments. You’ll have all the Pac-12 teams from this side of the country. USC, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State are there, and Pepperdine is one of the top five teams in the country, and I think you have six or seven top-25 teams so it’s a really tough tournament,” said Victor ahead of the tournament. “It’s really just a great chance to test ourselves and to see each other play at the highest level of college tennis and do our best to compete with them.”

After the ITA Southwest Regional, the Matadors will wrap up the fall season by hosting the CSUN Fall Invitational in November.