The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Women’s tennis ends season with loss in Big West quarterfinals

Edward Segal
File photo. Graduate student Sasha Turchak plays her tennis match in the CSUN Fall Invitational on Nov. 11, 2023 in Northridge, Calif.

CSUN women’s tennis had high hopes for the tournament as the second-place team in the Big West. But after they pushed most of their matches to three sets, they couldn’t finish them off and fell to the UC Davis Aggies 4-0.

The Matadors (13-7, 7-2 Big West Conference) entered the match against UC Davis after beating Hawaii 4-3 to finish the season.

Against the Aggies (12-13, 4-5 Big West Conference), who beat CSUN 4-3 earlier in the season, the Matadors ran their usual doubles partners of Sasha Turchak and Yuliia Zhytelna, who made the Big West all-conference first team; Cindy Ung and Victoria Santibañez Luna, who were named Big West honorable mentions; and Angela Ho and Elena Goodman. These pairings played 44 of the Matadors’ 49 doubles matches this year, and hold a combined record of 30-14.

In the tournament, Ung and Santibañez Luna lost 6-2, and Turchak and Zhytelna fell 6-4 as the Aggies quickly took the doubles point. Goodman and Ho fell behind 5-3, but their match remained unfinished.

Down 1-0, CSUN needed some clutch play in singles. Three Matadors won their first set. Santibañez Luna and Emma Moratalla Sanz took the lead, and Ho had a close battle but took her first set 7-5. The others fell behind, putting the Matadors in a tough spot.

For Santibañez Luna, this was her second time playing her opponent this year. The Matador won the first time, but her opponent played more aggressively this time around, and Santibañez Luna had to adjust, as her opponent took the second set after dropping the first.

“She started being a little more consistent and pushing the ball a little more,” Santibañez Luna said. “I think I handled it better in the first set and then by the second set, I think the pressure of the other matches was getting to me.”

Though her match did not finish, she was down 2-1 in the third set and had her back against the wall.

Zhytelna lost her singles match in two sets, but the day was far from over as the other five went to a third one.

A pair of 6-3 losses by Moratalla Sanz and Goodman dashed the Matadors’ hopes of advancing, as the team lost 4-0 while the other three matches remained unfinished.

Head coach Gary Victor said the Aggies got hot at the right time, beating teams like Big Sky leaders Sacramento State without Arianna Stavropoulos, their number one.

The Matadors, on the other hand, were nursing many injuries, and couldn’t stave off the pressure from the Aggies all the way.

“We were a little bit beat up,” Victor said. “I think we peaked a few weeks earlier.”

Santibañez Luna said this is the first season the Matadors were no longer the underdogs, and they had to learn to play like one of the top teams in the conference.

“We’ve always been kind of the underdog, at least since I’ve been here,” the redshirt senior said. “We’ve never gotten that much attention… We were really excited during the regular season of how well we were doing and then when we got to the Big West, it’s like, oh, we’re the second seed and people want to beat us, you know. We’re the team to beat.”

She said this experience will help them prepare for another season of having a target on their backs. The next step, she says, is telling themselves that they are ready to be here.

The Matadors ended the season 13-7, but hoped for a better result to finish Turchak’s career.

The graduate student studying real estate finished her Matador career with 31 wins in singles and 38 in doubles. She’s not planning to pursue tennis after graduating. Instead, Turchak has been interning for a career coach company that works with athletes, and will start working there full time.

Turchak beat her opponents from Hawaii in singles and doubles on senior day, something Victor says was special.

“For her to beat Hawaii on senior day was one of my favorite days as a coach in my 27-year career,” he said.

As the number one for the team this year, Turchak had to keep persevering as she played every team’s best player. In the tournament, she lost the first set to Stavropoulos, who made the all-conference first team, before drawing even and taking the lead in the third set. The match remained unfinished.

“I think one of my strengths as well as one of my weaknesses is being extremely passionate and loving to win,” Turchak said. “Like, obviously, I have pretty up and down emotion. So I definitely lost more than I ever have, which in the moment was really such a challenge for me.”

When asked if there is anything she wishes she got to do, Turchak cited something her doubles partner, Zhytelna, accomplished earlier in the season.

“I really wish I was able to clinch a match. I literally have never clinched a match,” Turchak said. “So, I mean, that’s such a small thing. But obviously, it’s like such a cool thing to like, have it be three all, everyone’s watching your match, and then you pull a match and you win.”

Though Turchak is leaving, the Matadors have many rising stars returning to the team next year, like Ho, a sophomore who has become a staple of the rotation, and Goodman, a freshman who fit right in as Ho’s doubles partner. The duo went 10-3 on the season. Nicole West also came in as a junior this year and provided a spark for the Matadors in singles play, where she went 6-4.

In addition, Moratalla Sanz stepped up as a staple of the rotation, and Santibañez Luna had a career year, going 11-6 in singles and 9-6 with Ung in doubles. She was named team MVP at their award ceremony and received honorable mentions for the Big West all-conference team in both singles and doubles.

“I always thought I will be, you know, the sixth or the seventh. Even doubles. I never thought I could play two in doubles, you know?” Santibañez Luna said. “So now that I’m one of the older ones on the team, I think it was really gratifying and really nice hearing my teammates tell me how much they appreciate my leadership.”

The team was, of course, led by veterans Turchak and Zhytelna, who also received honorable mentions in singles, in addition to their first-team honors as a doubles pair.

Victor says the Ukrainian redshirt junior could become the number one next year, as she has the fight and leadership the team needs in that spot, though he hasn’t yet decided who it will be.

In addition to Turchak leaving the team, Jasmine Tolmoyan, who didn’t get a chance to play this season, also hung up her racket. Santibañez Luna also thought about ending her Matador career.

She was thinking of leaving after five years, but has one year of eligibility left due to injuries and the pandemic, and decided to use it.

“I felt like I wasn’t satisfied with myself. Like, I’ve been here for five years, but I realistically only played like two. So I wanted to do my four years of playing tennis, and I feel so welcome and loved in this team that it felt just natural to come back.”

The Matadors have three players who haven’t made their debuts yet, those being Sydney Wilson, Annette Robertson, and Madison Shepperson. Victor said the latter has checked all the boxes for being ready to play in the lineup.

The recruiting he’ll be doing this offseason will be for 2025-26, as he already had to fight for more roster spots when adding Wilson and West.

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