Mani Thangadurai, Contributing Writer

Saturday Feb. 20 was an eventful day for the women’s tennis team as they took on the No.5 ranked Fighting Knights from Lynn University at the Wynee Warden Tennis Center at Florida Southern College.

This match was their kick-off to the 2016 Spring season following the washout of their match against Flagler College on February 6, which was itself replayed on Feb. 25 with the Moccasins succumbing 6-3. The 9-0 score line in favor of Lynn was not unexpected in lieu of the overall strength of the Fighting Knights and the fact that the Moccasins were a little under strength with a few players on the injured list.

The team displayed a great deal of spirit and fight from the players; they were up against a team of outstanding players who simply had their measure from the word go.

Play started on Saturday with the doubles matches on the first three courts where on Court 1, sophomores Sasha Nionova and Linnea Skymberg were caught cold by the on-fire top-ranked doubles team of Diana Bogoli and Rosalie Willig who were clinical in their 8-0 victory despite a few moments of brilliance from the Moccasins.

Court 3 saw another heavy defeat for the Moccasins, this time for Freshmen Natalija Popovic and Carolyn Cureton who went down 8-2 to Tania Alaby and Martina Gledacheva.

The last doubles match went for a little longer, but freshmen Selin Devrimci and Lorena Rionda couldn’t prevent an 8-3 defeat to Grace Mpassy and Carolina Cuevas despite showing a great deal of resolve on Court 2.

After a short break, play resumed with all six singles matches being played simultaneously. A common theme in each match was a great deal of spirit shown by the players of both teams, with the Fighting Knights playing the big points better and coming out on top.

The first match to finish was on Court 6 where Alaby overcame Cureton with a 6-2, 7-5 score line. This was followed by Mpassy defeating Skymberg 6-1, 6-2. Alina Jane of the Fighting Knights was able to down Popovic 6-3, 6-2 on Court 5, while an almighty tussle of power-hitting between Nionova and the eighth-ranked Bogoli ended with Nionova on the wrong end of a 7-6, 6-3 result.

A bright note for the Moccasins was Devrimci winning the first set against the 20th-ranked Gledacheva in a tie-break, but Gledacheva stormed back to take the second set 6-0 and then pipped Devrimci 10-8 in the tie-breaker on Court 3. The final piece of action saw Rionda go down 7-5, 6-3 to Cuevas on Court 4.

Despite the 9-0 scoreline, there were plenty of positives for the Moccasins to take from the match-up including the way they fought bravely against a top-ranked team which fired on all cylinders and oozed confidence as soon as they stepped on to the court.

Coach Trish Riddell spoke about how she had a few top players out injured and had to put some freshmen out on the court. Despite her disappointment with the result, she was optimistic about the team’s development and believes that they will only get better as the season continues.

“For the first match of the season I was certainly encouraged by the level of effort and energy [that the women showed]. With a young team those are the things you are looking for in the beginning. We have a whole season ahead and if we continue to improve and have an opportunity to play Lynn again, we [will] certainly do better.” Riddell said.

Believing that this disappointment will motivate the team to do better in their upcoming matches, Riddell also spoke about matters concerning scouting and team selection.

“I don’t get to see the opponents train, we observe a little in [the] warm-up and possibly from previous matches.  We have to play the team in order of strength; we are not allowed to create our lineup to provide favorable match ups.” Riddell said.

The Moccasins then played their next home game on Thursday Feb. 25 against Flagler College, a rescheduled match from Feb. 6. The 6-3 result in favor of the 16th-ranked Saints was an improvement for the Moccasins, with impressive singles wins for Devrimci, Rionda and Popovic a promising sign for the season ahead and seasons to follow.

The Moccasins will begin March on the road in Texas for a tournament before returning to Lakeland on Mar. 14 to face Bluefield State.