With the first half of the season complete, the Cal State Northridge women’s tennis team began its seven-game homestand rejuvenated, winning the first three contests in convincing fashion.
On March 20, the Matadors shut out the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames 7-0, outlasted the Wichita State Shockers 5-2 on March 19 and crushed Gonzaga 7-0 on March 14 to improve its record to 6-2 when playing at the Northridge Tennis Complex. Overall the Matadors hold a 7-5 record, but are just 1-4 in the Big West with two games left before the much-anticipated Conference Tournament in Indian Wells.
“It is a good start for March,” said junior Ana Matijasevic. “I think it is good that we are playing a lot of non-conference teams. It builds our confidence going into our last two conference matches and then the Tournament.”
On Monday’s contest, the Matadors were able to keep the Flames under control, winning all three doubles matches convincingly. Junior Silvia Gutierrez returned to her No. 1 position, alongside senior YuYu Myinttun, after missing Sunday’s doubles match with an injury. The tandem dominated their opponents, winning 8-1.
Sophomores Kanykey Koichumanova and Canna Furuta won 8-3 at the No. 2 spot, and Matijasevic and junior Olga Yepremian took care of business at the No. 3 position 8-2.
In singles, the Matadors continued their aggressive play, winning all but two matches in straight sets. Gutierrez fought off a first set tiebreaker to win 7-6 (4), 6-3, while Koichumanova battled through a second set controversy to claim a bumpy 6-2, 7-5 win.
Illinois-Chicago’s Callan Smith was upset at the judge’s ruling on a call and in turn barked unsportsmanlike words in the direction of Koichumanova. Nevertheless, Koichumanova kept her composure to win her seventh singles match of the year, bringing her record to 7-5.
Matijasevic defeated Molly Smith 6-1, 6-4, while Yepremian won 6-3, 6-2. Furuta outlasted Corey Steven in three sets 6-4, 4-6, 10-4 for her fourth singles win of the season, while Myinttun defeated Grace Gill-Morlis 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, her seventh.
The victories for Gutierrez and Yepremian mark their fifth straight singles win, while Matijasevic became the first Matador to reach the 10-win plateau. Matijasevic is also undefeated in the No. 4 singles spot for the year at 7-0. The Flames dropped their overall record to 7-8 on the year.
“I really try not to think about my record too much,” Matijasevic said. “I just take it one step at a time and consistently give my all.”
With the recent victories, Gutierrez has already matched her win total for last season with eight. In the 2004-05 campaign, Gutierrez posted a recorded of 8-11, however this year she has evolved into a more complete tennis player, with a mid-season record of 8-2.
“I think Silvia is playing with true composure,” head coach Gary Victor said. “She’s mixing up her shots well, but not over hitting.”
Yepremian, who has only recently become the No.6 singles player, has improved to 5-0 on the season, with all of her victories coming in the month of March.
“It feels good to contribute to the team,” Yepremian said. “I’ve put a lot of effort and hard work into my game.”
For Furuta, who has been struggling to find her stroke this season, valiant strides were taken this past week, as she won two of her last three matches. And the recent assistant coaching addition of Zbynek “Spin” Mlynarik may have contributed to her once-again winning ways.
“Every since the losses in Santa Barbara, Gary, James (Ciuffo) and Spin have told me to concentrate on moving my feet instead of just running to the ball,” Furuta said. “It’s still a work in progress, but I feel it is working.”
By adding Spin as an assistant coach, the Matadors will become recipients of a wealth of professional on-court experience, as the professional tennis player was ATP ranked as high as No. 206 in the world in September 2001. Victor said that his primary responsibility would be to improve the overall skill of the team during practices.
“We are so fortunate to have a guy like Spin a part of our program,” Victor said. “He is an amazing fit for our coaching staff and our players. It also gives us a clean slate ?a chance to reset our heads and build confidence for the remainder of the season.”
Wichita State 2
In Sunday’s match against Wichita State, the Matadors were down even before the first ball was put into play, as CSUN No. 1 Gutierrez was sidelined due to a sore thumb and missed the doubles. With her absence, Victor was forced to alter his doubles lineup, placing Koichumanova and Matijasevic together in the No. 2 position. The tandem of power-hitters easily dispatched their opponents 8-2, but the Shockers took advantage of the Gutierrez absence, winning the No. 1 and No. 3 matches to secure the initial point.
“In a perfect world we would put Ana and Kanykey together,” Victor said regarding his doubles team. “But to do that would mean we wouldn’t be as strong all-around.”
And for the first time all season, the Matadors rallied back after dropping the doubles point to claim the overall contest victory, stealing all but one singles match from the Shockers.
At the No. 1 slot, Gutierrez returned to beat the nationally ranked No. 81 Madina Rakhim 7-6, 4-6, 10-6. With the win, Gutierrez gave Rakhim only her second loss of the season (8-2).
“I just wanted to play my game,” Gutierrez said. “And if I get into a tiebreak I know I will win.”
The other five matches were all won in straight sets. Koichumanova won at the No. 2 position 6-0, 6-1, Matijasevic won at the No. 4 slot 6-3, 6-0, Myinttun triumphed at the No. 5 position 6-2, 6-1 and Yepremian won 6-1, 6-3 at the No. 6 spot to improve to 4-0 on the season. Furuta, however, fell to Anna Egorova 6-4, 6-3. The Shockers dropped their record to 5-5 on the season.
In the first game of the seven-game homestand, CSUN squared off against Gonzaga. The Bulldogs, however, were no match for the surging Matadors, as they could only win a total of 10 games in singles.
After only surrendering six games in doubles as a team, CSUN won all three doubles matches to earn the first point. Gutierrez and Myinttun won their match at the No. 1 slot 8-2, while the tandem of Koichumanova and Furuta won at the No. 2 position 8-3. Matijasevic and Yepremian also triumphed at No. 3 doubles 8-1.
In singles play, Gutierrez shut out Emily Anderson 6-0, 6-0, while Koichumanova and No. 5 Myinttun each won their respective matches 6-1, 6-0. Furuta was victorious at the No. 3 singles 6-0, 6-2. Matijasevic won at the No. 4 position 6-0, 6-3 and Yepremian won 6-2, 6-1. With the loss, Gonzaga fell to 1-10 on the season.
Over the last three matches, the Matadors have noticeably improved their ability to close out matches, in large part because of the individual players recognizing their abilities and playing within their respective styles.
“We have been doing exactly what we were supposed to,” Victor said. “I thought Silvia has been playing superbly controlled, yet aggressive when she needs to be. Kanykey is also excellently aggressive and Ana has been so consistent.”
The Matadors will continue their homestand when they face Nevada on March 24 at the Northridge Tennis Complex.
Matt Osias can be reached at email@example.com.