Matadors women’s tennis battles at Fall Invitational

CSUN coach Gary Victor talks to Yuliia Zhytelna as she battles through pain and fatigue during her singles match at the Jim Gorman Court on Nov. 12, 2022, in Northridge, Calif.

Edward Segal, Sports Editor

Fighting against themselves was the main struggle for the women’s tennis team on day two of the CSUN Fall Invitational. The Matadors secured nine singles victories and went 4-2 in doubles, but had to battle through pain, fatigue and frustration to pick up those wins.

“A big part of it is that they’ve got to come back to their conditioning,” said CSUN head coach Gary Victor. “I’d say the big thing is they rely on how they’ve trained and how they’ve put the work in, and I think they’re a very resilient group. They’ll find that extra drop of energy when they need it.”

The “Black” team played its singles matches against the University of Idaho, winning five out of six for the second day in a row.

Jasmine Tolmoyan avenged her loss from Friday, taking down Jayanne Palma in three sets with a 6-1 win in the final one. She came into the match after playing a team-high 35 games the day before, and was able to pull out the win Saturday after she and her opponent split two close sets.

The Matadors play their second singles matches of the CSUN Fall Invitational at the Jim Gorman Court on Nov. 12, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (Edward Segal)

“Yesterday was a tough match. I just told myself it’s a brand new day, so you’re starting all over again,” Tolmoyan said. “It wasn’t working out that well, my game. I just had to find it. Her balls were really off pace, and I like pace. So it was kind of hard to move my feet and find my game — but after the second set, I reset and then I just played my game.”

On the next court over, Jacqueline O’Neill was locked in a tight match that went to a tiebreaker in set two. O’Neill and her opponent exchanged point after point, until she finally secured the 10-8 victory to win the match.

Victoria Santibañez Luna and Cindy Ung also won in two sets, jumping into control from the start of their matches. Ung has won all four sets of her singles matches thus far, managing a 6-0 shutout in the first set of this match.

“I was mainly thinking about just focusing on my own game, not how the opponent plays,” Ung said. “Yeah, how the opponent plays also dictates how I play. But at the same time, if I just play my game, then I’ll be fine.”

Sasha Turchak secured the fourth two-set victory of the day for the “Black” team. She jumped out to a 3-0 lead in set one, giving up just one game the rest of the way. She won 6-3 in set two to close out the match.

“For me, it’s just about focusing on each point, not thinking too far ahead, and just staying with my shots,” Turchak said. “Today, I felt good. I felt more sharp than yesterday. I think the first match definitely helped with that.”

Yuliia Zhytelna was the last player on the “Black” team to finish her match, grinding through three tight sets. She fell behind 4-1 in the first set, but came back to win in a tiebreaker — only to come up short in the match with a 7-5 loss in the final set.

Angela Ho and Jolene Coetzee dap each other up after scoring a point in their doubles match at the Jim Gorman Court on Nov. 12, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (Edward Segal)

Zhytelna battled muscle cramps and soreness through her 35 games. She beat herself up after every miss, saying out loud, “No, Yuliia, no,” as she pushed through the frustration.

“My back hurt. I have back problems, so overall it was really hard for me to continue. But I just needed to finish the match,” said Zhytelna, taking Advil to manage the pain and using Biofreeze to reduce the aches in her legs so she could continue.

In a reversal of yesterday’s events, Angela Ho came over to Zhytelna’s aid and encouraged her to keep playing until the match was over.

“A lot of people, my teammates, they cheered for me,” Zhytelna said. “It feels incredible, and Angela just came to me and showed me her support, and I was so grateful for it.”

She only had about 15 minutes to take a breather between her match and doubles play, but was fortunate that she and Turchak needed just seven games to take down their opponents from Portland State University.

Tolmoyan and O’Neill also needed seven games to take care of a pairing from Westmont College, joining Turchak and Zhytelna in picking up their second doubles victory of the invitational.

Ung and Santibañez Luna came through as well, blowing their early 5-2 lead but saving the match in a tiebreaker against San Jose State University.

The “Red” team faced the University of the Pacific in doubles, and had the same result as they did the day before, though everyone improved in the number of games it took for them to get there.

Ho and Jolene Coetzee dropped the first game of their match, but allowed Pacific to win only one more before closing it out 6-2. Vitoria Solis and Emma Moratalla Sanz fell behind 4-1, but secured two more games before losing 6-3. Tallia Harper and Sofia Dermenjyan jumped out to a 3-2 lead, but lost four of the next five games in their 6-4 loss.

As the “Red” team transitioned to singles action, some of the frustration from these losses seeped into their matches against Utah State University.

Dermenjyan forced an extra game after alternating wins with Jade Brilhante in the first set, but could not pull out the victory. Her struggles continued in the second set, which she lost 6-2. Afterward, she went to the bench and put a towel over her head, letting out her emotions as her teammates consoled her.

Harper took a similar 6-2 loss in the first set of her match, while frustrated about the ball not falling her way. After pulling herself together for the second set, Harper found her rhythm and pulled out two 6-3 victories to come back and win the match.

“Yeah, I had to just completely forget about it,” Harper said about the first set. “My coach was telling me, ‘You have to have better composure.’ I think I got a lot better in the second and third set[s], like I was showing very little frustration when I missed and just playing my game, spinning the ball a lot.”

Ho, Solis and Coetzee all took care of business to bring the Matadors to nine singles victories on the day, winning each match in two sets. Ho was the only one who needed an extra game, winning the first set 7-5 after alternating wins with her opponent.

Coetzee achieved the second shutout of the day for the Matadors, winning the first set 6-0 before playing her longest set of the invitational thus far in a 6-4 win over Monique Burton.

“I think in the first set, she was just missing a lot. And in the second set, she was playing a lot better and I had to step up my game and not be afraid, even more than the first set,” Coetzee said. “I think I just stayed mentally tough, and really had to believe in my game. Because whenever I would back off she would win the point, so I really had to believe in all my shots.”

Moratalla Sanz was the final Matador on the court. She fought to come back after coming back from down 3-2 to win the first set against Zeynep Naz Ozturk, but struggled through a 6-1 loss in set two.

Moratalla Sanz began the final set cold, dropping five of the first seven games, but came back to tie with three straight victories. Naz Ozturk controlled the next two games, causing Moratalla Sanz to sprint side-to-side and toward the net on multiple occasions. Moratalla Sanz smacked the ground with her racket a few times to release her frustration.

After playing multiple close games and being forced to move up and down the court many times, Moratalla Sanz fell short of another comeback and lost 7-5.

“I think that I keep fighting because that was the only thing that I could do when I was down,” Moratalla Sanz said. “I think that the key is keep working, keep fighting for your point. I got to 5-5 and then I didn’t achieve what I wanted, but it was close.”

The Matadors huddled after the match ended, as the coaches talked to them about the importance of keeping their cool.

“Enjoy the grind,” was volunteer assistant coach Mark Otten’s message to the team before the third day of action.

“When they’re playing, they already have a lot of things to battle, a lot of challenges, and so it’s an additional challenge,” Otten said. “Anytime you can take a challenge and enjoy it, rather than let it become a negative, a positive interpretation is the key.”

The “Red” team will take on Idaho in singles and Portland State University in doubles Sunday, while the “Black” team will face Portland State in singles and Youngstown State University in doubles.