On the cusp of a looming conference tournament, Bradley tennis (10-6) had another successful weekend, beating both Saint Louis and Valparaiso by a score of 5-2 on Saturday.
Against the Billikens, the Braves clinched the doubles point for the third-straight match thanks to wins at No. 1 and No. 3 doubles. Sophomores Bozana Lojpur and Nikki Perlwitz extended their doubles winning streak to four matches in their 6-1 victory at No. 3.
Bradley closed out Senior Day with wins at No. 2, 4, 5 and 6 singles. Lone senior Natalia Barbery picked up the 6-2, 6-0 victory at No. 5 to finish her home career on a high note. Head coach Matt Tyler had nothing but good things to say about his fifth-year player.
“Natalia has been just a fantastic team member for us,” Tyler said. “I really can’t say enough about her. She works hard every single day, comes with a great attitude, has been a great leader for us and we’re certainly gonna miss her a whole lot.”
Sunday’s match against Valparaiso started with an uncharacteristic loss in doubles, with freshman Maria Bezmenova and junior Nina Marjanovic responsible for the only winning set at No. 2, 6-1.
The tandem earned doubles team of the week from the MVC for their wins, a first for both of them. The duo holds a record of 4-1 in conference play and 5-2 overall on the season. The honor marks the third time this season that the Braves received a doubles team of the week award.
The Braves bounced back in singles, starting with a 6-3, 6-2 victory by junior Sandra Maletin at No. 1 and a 6-2, 6-1 victory by freshman Victoria Sanchez-Bronzetti at No. 3.
“I feel bad we lost doubles,” Maletin said. “Most of it, I think, was my fault because I missed some shots that I shouldn’t, so I kind of had to reset going into singles.”
No. 4, 5 and 6 all came through for Bradley as Perlwitz won her sixth straight match at No. 6 6-3, 6-4 and Barbery came back to win the last regular season match of her career at No. 5 2-6, 6-2, 10-6. The Braves have now won their last 12 matches against Valpo, their longest current streak against any team.
Bradley rides a five-match win streak heading into the conference tournament, and its 10-6 record gives the Braves their third consecutive winning season for the first time since 1991-1993. Tyler is certainly a big reason for their success, but the eighth-year head coach credits the ladies for the accomplishment.
“I have to give full credit to my team, just working hard day in and day out,” Tyler said. “Especially this year, I’m just super proud of the effort everyone has put in. Very proud of all of them.”
Bradley is ranked fourth for the conference tournament this weekend and is set to take on fifth-seeded Drake, who the Braves beat two weeks ago in a 4-3 nailbiter.
“We obviously have some confidence against Drake, beating them the last two years, and I think that bodes well for us, for sure,” Tyler said. “We’ll have to be sharp and try to play our best tennis and play our best tennis, all of us, on the same day.”
The winner will take on top-seeded Illinois State. Bradley was on the losing end of a 4-3 battle the last time they met the Redbirds on March 27.
“I think we match up really well against ISU,” Tyler said. “I think we actually played one of our best matches against ISU and just came up a little bit short. It’s just a matter of everybody feeling confident and playing well at the same time.”
Maletin believes the Braves’ path to a championship runs through Illinois State and is confident her team can take the crown.
“I think we have a really good chance to win the conference as long as we beat ISU,” Maletin said. “I think that’s our only competition that we have.”
Despite high confidence, Maletin knows there are still things that can be improved upon.
“I just think we need to have more energy going into our matches,” Maletin said. “When we had that high-level energy we won all the matches that we played.”
Tyler echoed the sentiment, although he thinks competition will be a little stiffer.
“We’re gonna have to go out and be super energized and support each other like we have the entire season,” Tyler said. “If we do those things, I feel really good about our chances, but Drake certainly is not going to let us just take it from them.”
The match against Drake is at 2 p.m. Friday, with possible semi-final and championship matchups set for Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m.