It was a bittersweet occasion as Bradley tennis left the Missouri Valley Conference championships on Saturday with a semifinal loss to Illinois State, but seniors Bozana Lojpur and Nikki Perlwitz tied the program record for most doubles wins by a pair in their career.
With a hard-fought 4-2 victory against Northern Iowa and a 4-0 sweep at the hands of Illinois State, putting out a good performance was a high priority going in for the Braves.
“My team had a lot of experience and they were super supportive of me,” freshman Kirstin Hailey said. “We went in hoping all of us would play well.”
Despite leaving Roger Knapp Tennis Center in Des Moines, Iowa one day early, Bradley head coach Matt Tyler thought that his team’s performances had an upward trajectory in terms of quality all season.
“I was really happy with our season,” Tyler said. “Getting ten wins in a single season is always a great accomplishment, and we got there finishing third in the conference. We beat everybody in my estimation that we were supposed to.”
The No. 3 seeded Braves started their run against No. 6 Northern Iowa by winning the doubles point, with sophomore Maria Bezmenova and senior Nina Marjanovic clinching the point. This marked the fifth time this season that the Braves took a doubles set away from the Panthers.
Against UNI, Perlwitz and Lojpur were able to tie the record for most doubles wins by a pair, set by former Braves Natalia Barbery and Sandra Maletin with 43.
After aggressive first sets from the Braves, leading in four singles courts, the All-MVC selection Perlwitz pushed the Braves’ lead to 2-0 against the Panthers before sophomore Madalena Andrade made it 3-0 after a 7-6, 6-2 victory.
The Panthers would fight back with wins at No. 1 and No. 2 singles after three-set wins against Lojpur and Hailey made it 3-2.
Coming in clutch was Marjanovic, who clinched the win for the Braves after her three-set duel ended in 6-3, 6-7, 6-2, sending the Braves to the semis.
Once No. 2 Illinois State advanced after taking down No. 7 Missouri State, the Braves would play their final game of the season against their I-74 rivals.
“[Illinois State] are all really good competitors,” Hailey said. “On the court and off the court, they’re very nice to us.”
Illinois State took the necessary doubles point for the Braves, who have struggled to win without it this season.
As the Redbirds clinched the match with wins at No. 4, No. 3 and No. 5 singles, Tyler believes that if the match hadn’t been won they would’ve seen a much closer result.
“I think Nikki was going to win, Bozana was five-all in her set and Kirstin was up a set,” Tyler said. “So potentially 4-3 against the team that won the whole thing made me happy with our performance.”
Hailey, after coming back from being down 3-5 during her first singles set, was more than satisfied with the way she battled back.
“That was a really long match; I was really happy with how I played,” Hailey said. “I came back to win the first set, and that was definitely really exciting for me.”
Illinois State would end up winning it all on Sunday, besting Drake in a tight 4-3 competition that came down to the No. 6 singles spot where Illinois State clinched the title.
As with the end of every spring sports season, players move on from the Hilltop and this year, the tennis team will bid farewell to Marjanovic and Perlwitz.
“We appreciate all their hard work and the leadership those two have brought,” Tyler said. “We’re going to miss the hell out of all of them.”