Matadors end semester strong at stormy Fall Invitational

Vitoria Solis swings for the ball over her head against Annabel Davis of Idaho State University on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, at the Matador Tennis Complex in Northridge, Calif.

Edward Segal, Sports Editor

High winds and temperatures as low as 59 degrees turned the women’s tennis team’s final day of the CSUN Fall Invitational into what CSUN coach Gary Victor called “the toughest day of the semester.”

Chairs and trash cans flew every which way as the wind started to seem unstoppable. Players were forced to move these and other light objects outside the fence so they could play uninterrupted.

Assistant coach James Ciuffo, who missed the first two days of the competition after testing positive for COVID-19, tested negative and returned to the sidelines Sunday along with his two dogs, helping the team through the tough conditions.

The “Red” team took the court first and felt the effects of the gusts of wind. This was combined with two days of action already under them, and their opponent, Idaho, calling out of bounds pretty tight. Today proved to be the toughest outing for the six players in this group, as only three of them managed to pull out a win in singles, and one of their three pairings won its doubles match.

Angela Ho came into her match undefeated in the invitational, but lost each set 6-3 as her opponent put the match further out of reach each time Ho came close to tying.

Her doubles partner, Jolene Coetzee, won her third straight singles match, but needed an extra set and an extra game in that set to do so.

Sasha Turchak runs toward the net to hit the ball back to her opponent, Masha Ponomareva of Portland State University, on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, at the Matador Tennis Complex in Northridge, Calif. (Edward Segal)

Vitoria Solis also won her first two singles matches of the event, but after winning her first set 6-3, she lost back-to-back tiebreakers against Annabel Davis to drop the match. This included a near comeback from down 5-1 in the final set.

“I tried to do my best, I tried to be positive but I wasn’t playing really good,” Solis said. “I was down in the third set 5-1 and I tried to play it point by point.”

Emma Moratalla Sanz and Sofia Dermenjyan both had one singles win and no doubles victories entering Sunday, but each of them won their singles match in two sets on the final day, claiming the first set 6-3 and the final set in a tiebreaker.

“I had a tough loss yesterday, but I knew today I had to come out and fight even harder because the conditions were really tough,” Dermenjyan said. “I think I started off pretty well in the first set but then the games changed later on, and I think the support of my teammates and my family really helped keep me going.”

Tallia Harper went down in two sets, falling in the extra game of set two after winning her first two singles matches of the event.

In doubles action, the “Red” team battled Portland State University, and only secured one win in three matches.

Coetzee and Ho battled Masha Ponomareva and Capu Sanoner, and pushed the match to 10 games, but fell 6-4 in their first loss of the event. Outside of a miscommunication that caused them to both go after the ball and bump rackets, the Matadors fed off each other well, but fell short of the intended result.

The Matadors huddle and recite their “When I say C, you say SUN!” chant after the round of doubles on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, at the Matador Tennis Complex in Northridge, Calif. (Edward Segal)

“I think they’re definitely much better players, compared to the last two days,” Coetzee said. “I think that was the biggest thing, and also I don’t think we played to the best of our abilities.”

Harper and Dermenjyan suffered a 6-0 shutout to Nika Beukers and Nell Arendt, unable to find their groove and build any momentum.

The other duo that entered the night with two losses, Moratalla Sanz and Solis, battled back-and-forth with their opponents to force an extra game, which they won 7-5 when Sanz hit a ball that went just past the net, too shallow for either of her opponents to reach.

“I think that today, we already played for two days so we have more rhythm,” Sanz said. “I think that we played better than the other days because we have more confidence in ourselves and we tried to do things we didn’t do the days before, and this is the key. Be more aggressive in the back on our returns and stay more focused and more aggressive, and go forward for the ball.”

On the side of things for the “Black” team, which faced Youngstown State University, Sasha Turchak and Yuliia Zhytelna picked up their third win of the invitational, remaining undefeated thanks to their second straight 6-1 rout of their opponents.

“I feel like we have really good communication,” Turchak said. “I just feel like our game styles are really complimentary, because I feel like I’m more on the baseline, she’s more at the net, and so that works really well.”

Cindy Ung and Victoria Santibañez Luna followed suit, forcing a shutout to bring their record to 3-0 in the invitational.

The final pairing, Jacqueline O’Neill and Jasmine Tolmoyan, did not take the court, as the former injured her abdomen the day before and sat out.

Vitoria Solis goes for the forehand against Annabel Davis of Idaho State University on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, at the Matador Tennis Complex in Northridge, Calif. (Edward Segal)

The invitational ended with another set of matches against Portland State, this time in singles.

Tolmoyan took the court for the final time this semester, fresh from not having to play doubles, but took another close loss after forcing an extra game in set one and dropping the second set 6-4.

Ung ended up winning all of her singles sets throughout the tournament after winning both on Sunday by a score of 6-3, becoming the only Matador to go 6-0 in sets.

Santibañez Luna came close to achieving that same feat, losing her only set of the event Friday and claiming her third victory with a 7-5 finish in set two Sunday.

“I’m very proud of myself and everyone. Everyone fought really hard, and despite the weather and the wind, everyone figured it out,” Santibañez Luna said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been undefeated the whole tournament, so that was great.”

Santibañez Luna said she took advantage of her opponent’s flat shots to be more aggressive in set one, and heeded Ciuffo’s advice to roll the ball more rather than hitting it flat in set two, which allowed her to come back from down 2-5 to win the match.

Turchak followed suit and won her match 6-2 in the third set, fighting for the victory after her 6-1 loss in the second.

“I feel like I started off really strong in the first, and pretty confident,” Turchak said. “In the second set, I feel like she adjusted to my game, so it kind of took me a while to readjust and just play more solid, and kind of stick to my game in the third.”

Assistant coach James Ciuffo leaves the courts with his dogs to pick up a trash can that was blown over by the wind on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, at the Matador Tennis Complex in Northridge, Calif. (Edward Segal)

Her teammates started chanting, “Let’s go Sasha, let’s go!” as she scored the final point to secure her third victory of the event.

That made Sunday the second day in a row that Zhytelna was the final Matador on the court for the “Black” team. She fought through three close sets, falling behind 5-4 in the final set before rallying to win three games in a row. Zhytelna forced her opponent to go long a couple of times in the final game, but missed wide twice before finally bringing the match to an end.

After playing 35 games just to fall short the day before, Zhytelna was motivated to see this game through. The Ukrainian battled through 32 games against Elizabeth Strongina, bringing her total to 67 games over the last two days of the invitational.

“I don’t know, I just feel tired, and I don’t like it,” Zhytelna said. “Honestly, the tournament was great, incredible matches, really good matches, really good competitors.”

Zhytelna’s win gave the Matadors a 27-8 record in singles at the CSUN Fall Invitational. In doubles, the Matadors finished 11-6.

Victor gathered the team for the final time this semester and told them how proud he was of them, emphasizing how far they have come from the start of the fall.

“I think that the team grew in so many ways,” Victor said. “I think that we learned a lot from this morning, playing on a very windy day with five freshmen, and we saw some meltdowns, basically. You know, I think that they were mentally tired, and I think that the wind got to them. Their opponents calling them tight were getting them a little uptight, and I think that they have to learn to deal with adversity, and deal with the wind, and deal with the things that they can’t control.”

As the spring schedule approaches, the Matadors will have to decide on a starting lineup for the tournaments in the back half of the season, as only three doubles pairings and six players for singles are allowed to contribute to the team’s record, while the rest will play exhibition matches and hope that their numbers are called.