Sizzling Matadors win 11 of 12 singles to open Fall Invitational

From left, Vitoria Solis battles Zoe Clydesdale-Eberle from the University of the Pacific at the Jim Gorman Court in Northridge, Calif., on Nov. 11, 2022.

Edward Segal, Sports Editor

CSUN women’s tennis continued its hot start to the season behind multiple rallies in the two legs of singles play, winning 11 singles matches and four doubles matches to start the CSUN Fall Invitational.

Every Matador was given the chance to play on their home court Friday, divided into two groups of six for singles action on the windy day. The “Red” team took the court against the University of the Pacific at 9 a.m., while the “Black” team played against Utah State University at 1 p.m. In between these games were the doubles matches against Portland State University and CSU Sacramento.

The “Red” team swept the University of the Pacific through the morning slate of games. All five first-year Matadors participated in this group, along with graduate student Jolene Coetzee.

“I was really impressed that we were able to sweep Pacific with a split squad,” CSUN head coach Gary Victor said. “It really speaks to how deep we are and the fighters that we have.”

Victor was left to do all of the coaching himself, as assistant coach James Ciuffo contracted COVID-19 and could not make the event.

Emma Moratalla Sanz, Sofia Dermenjyan and Tallia Harper each took care of their opponents in two sets, losing no more than four games in any of them.

Harper took on Olivia Wiese for the second time in her career, winning the rematch 6-2 and 6-4.

“She played a lot different than the first time,” Harper said, noting the spin Wiese put on the ball. “She played better.”

Coetzee won the first set of her match 6-3, but lost the second set after opponent Klara Kosan forced extra games. She bounced back and ran away with the third set, winning it 6-2.

Vitoria Solis and Angela Ho both rallied after dropping the first set, powering the ball with each swing of the racket to come back and win. Chants of “Vamos Vito!” and “Good hustle, Angela!” could be heard from the sideline — as Yuliia Zhytelna, who was part of the “Black” team scheduled to play at 1 p.m, stood outside the fence, cheering the Matadors on and pushing them to keep going.

Solis won the third set after her opponent forced an extra game, winning 7-5 to secure the Matadors’ fifth victory of the invitational.

While Ho was the last one still playing, Zhytelna went over to her bench to keep pushing her after every game. Ho kept fighting for points, but Megan Carmichael proved a tough opponent.

“This past week was kind of a tough week. I wasn’t playing well and I got kind of frustrated, but I was talking to the coach and I wanted to make sure I came into the match clear-minded and tried to be as positive as possible,” Ho said. “I knew that I was going to get mad at some points, because that’s kind of who I am, and I’m trying to control that better right now. But I feel like, with Yuliia’s help and everyone else supporting me, I was able to stay positive.”

Ho powered through a tough 7-5 victory in the second set, before cruising to a 6-2 victory in set three.

“She did everything by herself,” Zhytelna said. “I kind of just gave her a little support. She’s just amazing. I was just there to push her because she was crying a little bit, but she did everything herself.”

When doubles rolled around, Solis, Sanz, Dermenjyan and Harper were unable to find their footing after their singles victories, as both pairs lost 6-2. Coetzee and Ho battled through a back-and-forth match against Tsveti Yotova and Mayya Gorbunova of Sacramento State, going to a tiebreaker before winning 7-3.

All the Matadors came to court two after they finished their matches, to watch the pairings duke it out until the finish.

“It was definitely a great feeling,” Coetzee said. “Everyone was cheering and we ended up winning. But even if we had lost, we gave everything we could. We tried to come back, and at the end of the day we are happy with how we performed.”

All three pairings from the “Black” team won their matches against Portland State, building momentum for their singles matches to come.

Cindy Ung and Jacqueline O’Neill took control of their singles matches early and beat their opponents from Utah State University quickly, giving up no more than three games per set.

“I kind of just figured out what her strengths and weaknesses were,” said O’Neill. “A lot of the time, she was good at just banging from the baseline with me. So I used my different variety of shots, like mixing it up and changing the pace, and coming to the net and things like that — which is how I figured out a way to make it easier on myself.”

Zhytelna also won her match in two sets, but had to play an extra game in each to take down Lisa Küng. In set two, Zhytelna fell behind 5-1, but won six games in a row, letting out her emotions as she rallied to shut out Küng.

Victoria Santibañez Luna similarly had an emotionally-taxing match, going to an extra game in the first set before losing 6-3 to be forced into a winner-take-all. With her dog waiting for her at the sideline, the leftie came through to make the Matadors 10-0 in the invitational.

“For me, the wind definitely played a big role. It’s definitely harder to play in the wind,” Santibañez Luna said. “But we’re kind of used to that, since it’s super windy here. So instead of looking at that as an adversity, I saw it as an advantage in how to play with the wind and attack her weaknesses.”

Sasha Turchak and Jasmine Tolmoyan were the last two standing in the bitter cold, playing through the wind and the pain. The others divided to watch them play on opposite ends of the tennis courts.

Turchak won the first set 7-5, but quickly fell behind 0-3 in the second set and was unable to recover. In the winner-take-all third set, Turchak jumped out to a 5-2 lead, but almost let it slip away when Zeynep Naz Ozturk took the next two games. Turchak pulled out a win in the next game to end the match.

This left Tolmoyan as the final player on the court. The sophomore dropped the tiebreaker to lose the first set 7-6, but bounced back to win the second set 7-5. Set three swung back-and-forth as Tolmoyan fell behind 2-3 early on, won two games in a row to take the lead, and dropped three more to lose and put an end to the Matadors’ longest match of the day.

“In the first set, I just missed a lot. So after that, I just started making more balls in, and tried moving her side-to-side even though I was also dead,” Tolmoyan said. “I got the second set pretty well, and then in the third set — I know we were both tired, and I was cramping, I had blisters everywhere, pain everywhere — but I just played out every point and I fought for every point. And I guess those last couple of points, those deuce points just got me. But I’m proud of how I played.”

The Matadors will transition to day two of the tournament Saturday, where the “Black” team will play the University of Idaho in singles and Westmont College in doubles, while the “Red” team will play Utah State in singles and Pacific in doubles.