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Historic tennis season ends with loss in MVC semifinals

The Bradley tennis team competed at the Missouri Valley Conference Women’s Team Championship this past weekend in Waterloo, Iowa. The Braves earned the No. 3 seed after posting a historic 15-7 record in the regular season but were eliminated by No. 2 Illinois State in the semifinal 4-0.

The team closed out the regular season with four straight MVC victories and went 4-1 in conference for its best finish in team history.

On Friday, the Braves swept tournament host No. 6 Northern Iowa in the quarterfinals 4-0. They played each other for the second time in a week, with Bradley coming off of a 6-1 win the previous Sunday.

The Braves claimed the doubles point, unlike in the previous UNI match. The No. 1 duo of junior Natalia Barbery and sophomore Sandra Maletin won their match 6-3. The No. 2 pairing of freshmen Bozana Lojpur and Nikki Perlwitz secured the doubles point with a tight 7-6 triumph.

In singles, Bradley clinched the victory with three quick two-set wins. Maletin won her No. 1 singles match up 6-4, 6-4, No. 2 Lojpur won 6-3, 6-2 and No. 6 Perlwitz won 6-3, 6-3. Since the team match was decided at that point, the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 singles matches did not finish.

The win marked the program’s third quarterfinal win in four years. Head coach Matt Tyler said he was excited heading into the semifinals.

“We felt good after Friday,” Tyler said. “UNI fought hard and they are a very good team. Beating them at their own facilities felt good. We were fired up going into ISU.”

Due to the weather, the tournament was moved indoors on Saturday. Tyler said the change of location forced the Braves to make an adjustment.

“It was a bit of a challenge going from outdoor to indoor on Saturday,” Tyler said. “On top of that we had a slow start losing the doubles point. But the momentum was really going in our direction. I thought all of our girls played well and fought hard. In the end, things just didn’t go our way.”

Unlike in their regular season meeting with the Redbirds, the Braves failed to pick up the doubles point. Lojpur and Perlwitz lost their match 6-1 while the No. 3 pairing of redshirt junior Lindsay Haight and senior Malini Wijesinghe lost 6-3. The duo of Barbery and Maletin were tied 4-4 before their match was abandoned as the doubles point had been decided.

In singles play, Maletin and Barbery each forced a third set in their matches while No. 2 Lojpur forced a tiebreaker in the first set. Ultimately, Barbery fell 2-6, 6-2, 2-6 at the No. 4 flight. Sophomore No. 5 Nina Marjanovic lost 3-6, 5-7 and No. 6 Perlwitz lost 2-6, 0-6.

Illinois State went on to win the conference tournament earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament. They will open up the first round against Southern California in Los Angeles tomorrow afternoon.

The Braves finished the season at 16-8, the best finish in program history. Tyler commented on the legacy the two graduating seniors leave behind.

“We’ll miss Malini and Lindsay a lot. They leave behind a legacy that will last,” Tyler said. “[Wijesinghe] won 20 matches for us. Not only do they leave behind wins, but leadership. Filling that in will be a challenge.”

Looking ahead to next season, Tyler said he is optimistic about the future of the program.

“I think we’re going to get better and better,” Tyler said. “Obviously we’re pretty young, so I think the future is really, really bright for us.

As one of two departing seniors, Wijesinghe commented on leading the team to a historic season.

“Our coaches have always done a really good job at keeping tennis in perspective to the rest of our lives balanced,” Wijesinghe said. “They encouraged us to be fulfilled on and off the court. I think that’s what allowed me to enjoy tennis these four years.”

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