Losing one of your team leaders for a match or a game is a difficult task to overcome in any sport. This weekend, the Bradley women’s tennis team was forced to compete without two of the four most decorated players in program history.
Bradley played without seniors Ariel Dechter (family emergency) and Ashley Thai (injury), forcing everyone in the rotation up one spot and a change in the team’s Nos. 2 and 3 doubles pairings.
In an early-season matchup of undefeated teams, Eastern Illinois was able to take advantage of the short-handed Bradley lineup to earn a 7-0 sweep over the Braves last Saturday afternoon.
The Panthers started strong and continued their dominance throughout the match, taking the doubles point in a 3-0 sweep and earning the clinching point in the No. 4 singles spot.
“First and foremost, you have to give credit where credit is due,” head coach Matt Tyler said. “I was very impressed with Eastern’s level of play; they’re a tremendous team. It obviously hurts when you have to push everyone up a position in the lineup, but I’m proud of the way we came out, fought and competed.”
Sophomore Malini Wijesinghe played in the No. 5 singles spot and put up the strongest fight, dropping a 7-5, 3-6, 7-10 decision. Sophomore Julie Martin earned Bradley’s only other set victory in her 6-3, 0-6, 2-6 loss at No. 6 singles.
“It was tough not having two of our better and older players there,” Wijesinghe said. “Before the match, coach told us to believe that you are good enough to compete with and beat these girls. I think we all went into the match believing that and it’s one of the reasons we played well.”
The Braves also kicked off a three-match road swing last Sunday when they faced Northern Illinois. Still short-handed, Bradley put up a strong fight against Northern Illinois before dropping a 5-2 decision to the Huskies.
“Saturday we didn’t play our best tennis, but I feel like we really turned that around on Sunday,” Tyler said. “We were able to compete with a really good Northern Illinois team, and it certainly felt like we could’ve beaten them without two of our better players in the lineup, so I felt as good about a loss as I could have.”
Junior Alexa Brandt and Wijesinghe earned Bradley’s only doubles victory, with a 6-3 decision in the No. 2 spot. Northern Illinois claimed the match’s opening point, however, with victories in Nos. 1 and 3 doubles.
The Braves earned their two points for the day at Nos. 4 and 5 singles. Junior Aimee Manfredo battled back from a 3-6 loss in the first set to win the next two sets 6-4 and 6-2 to take the point in No. 4 singles. Wijesinghe ended her successful weekend with two victories, pairing her doubles win with a 6-4, 6-4 victory at No. 5 singles.
“We’re ready to go out and compete again next weekend,” Wijesinghe said. “We’ll have [Detcher] back, which will definitely help the lineup. Even though the wins weren’t there, I think most of us felt good about our games, and we’re all looking forward to getting back out there.”
The Braves will continue their road swing tomorrow when they travel to Wisconsin to face Milwaukee.