NEW ORLEANS – Play simple yet aggressive.
That’s a key message that Northwestern State tennis players have heard and absorbed throughout the 2022 regular season, which ended with a Southland Conference title and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.
Continuing to build on that message, and the success that’s followed as NSU won all six SLC matches, will be the focus as the Lady Demons (14-4, 6-0 SLC) start the SLC Tournament on Friday against No. 8 seed Southeastern (3-15, 1-5 SLC).
NSU will face the Lady Lions at 1 p.m. with the hopes of playing in Saturday’s semifinals (10 a.m.) and Sunday’s championship match (10 a.m.).
“We grew a lot throughout the season and improved in almost every single match,” said Mariella Minetti, who is on a nine-match singles winning streak. “I’ve been very disciplined and solid, aiming to do the right things in every part of the game.
“Even when you’re not having your best day, you can still make a lot of shots and compete well. In this tournament, we’re just going to try and enjoy each other and compete well.”
In a seemingly individual sport like tennis, NSU’s team chemistry and bond has provided a competitive boost.
Second-year head coach Jonas Brobeck said seeing a roster of three freshmen and five veterans (albeit four of those being sophomores) bond together has been one of his favorite aspects to this championship season.
“It’s huge, and it’s a beautiful thing,” Brobeck said. “They love each other, and therefore, so many things are easy.
“You’re competing for something bigger than yourself – competing for your teammates and your school. That starts with the leadership from senior Patrycja Polanska, who has five years of experience. It’s a pleasure coming to every single day with them.”
NSU is looking for its first tournament win since 2019. Most of the 2020 season was cancelled because of COVID-19 and the Lady Demons lost in the first round of 2021.
Polanska provided the clinching point in the 2019 SLC Tournament win against UNO as the only Lady Demon who has been part of a tournament win.
But the Lady Demons do have dominance on their side this season as they’ve won nine matches in a row and their six league matches by a combined score of 35-7.
Host UNO is the only conference team to play NSU to a 4-3 score, but Brobeck said the 4-3 match with Louisiana Tech this past week provides invaluable experience in a tight setting.
“Having played at UNO’s facility and been in a tight match in that venue matters a lot, and we got to go down the day before and practice there as well,” Brobeck said. “It makes it less of an away scenario, and those small things can matter.
“And then the close match with Louisiana Tech was great because even though we’ve had a lot of success, we’re still a young team. That experience of being in tight matches is part of the process of learning, and I’m thrilled we came out on the right side of both of those matches.”
NSU started SLC play on the right side with a 6-1 at Southeastern on March 12.
The Lady Demons took every point except the No. 1 spot as SLU’s Putri Insani topped Rozalie Dohnalova. NSU won its five singles matches in straight sets and cruised to the doubles point.
But Dohnalova has improved in the back half of league play, winning the final three league matches including against SLC Player of the Year Emma Aucagne in straight sets as part of a 6-1 team win against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
NSU tied a program record with seven All-SLC selections, including first-team singles players Minetti (No. 3), Ayu Ishibashi (No. 4) and Viktorie Wojcikova (No. 5) – who all went 6-0 in league play.
Ishibashi didn’t drop a set to a conference opponent.
Tjasa Klevisar popped in as the No. 2 second-team pick.
“I’m extremely proud and super happy about the individual success, but more importantly, we’ve had the team success,” Brobeck said. “Things were going our way in the middle of the season, and we’ve continued to reinforce the positive things and continue to be smart and play the right way.
“We’re communicating well and focusing on the right things. It’s very nice.”
The Lady Demons also didn’t drop and doubles point in SLC matches and have won the last 10 doubles points dating back to Houston on Feb. 28.
NSU’s No. 2 pair of Dohnalova/Wojcikova were picked to the All-SLC first team after a 6-0 campaign, and NSU’s two other pairs (No. 1 Minetti/Klevisar made second team and No. 3 Ishibashi/Polanska made third team) also were voted to the all-conference squad.
Especially in tournament matches where play stops once a team clinches the fourth point, “scoreboard pressure” can be created by winning the doubles point.
“We’ve been playing really well in doubles, and we have throughout the season,” Brobeck said. “We’ve understood what we needed to do very quickly, and they’ve been brave enough and played simple enough to get it done.
“You can put so much pressure on your opponent in a clinch-clinch match with the doubles point.”
Taking all that into account, NSU has one more feather in its cap even if it has a younger team.
The Lady Demons have a history of reaching the SLC Tournament championship match, getting there six times since 2010 and winning titles in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
Patric DuBois was on staff either as a head coach or assistant coach for all six appearances.
The only time NSU has completed a regular season and tournament title was also the only season (2010) in which the Lady Demons fashioned an undefeated SLC record (11-0).