With two wins over Drake and Northern Iowa this past weekend, the Bradley tennis team set the record for most wins in a season in program history, going 15-7.
Bradley also finished the regular season with a 4-1 record in Missouri Valley Conference play. The team’s second place finish in the conference is the best finish since joining the MVC in the 1992-93 season.
Both matches were hosted outdoors at the David Markin Tennis Courts for the first time this season and the Braves only dropped one singles match through the two days. Senior Malini Wijesinghe said the mid-70’s temperatures were pleasant to play in but said the team had to adjust to the setting and conditions.
“It’s tougher to win outside for us because we play most of the season indoors, so it’s an adjustment to get out here and play with the wind and the sun and all the things that affect the game,” Wijesinghe said.
On Saturday, Bradley seemed prepared for the elements as it earned its first dual match victory against Drake for the first time in team history. Before the victory, the Braves had dropped the previous 25 meetings to the Bulldogs.
The pairing of sophomore Sandra Maletin and junior Natalia Barbery took the No. 1 doubles match to a tiebreaker and won 7-1 in the playoff.
The No. 3 pairing of Wijesinghe and redshirt junior Lindsay Haight held off the Bulldogs for three match points and won 7-5.
Bradley cruised to the team win by winning the first three singles matches. After freshman No. 2 Bozana Lojpur and sophomore No. 5 Nina Marjanovic won, No. 1 Maletin clinched a 6-2 victory following a first set victory of 7-6.
Sunday started as a different story as Bradley was overmatched by UNI and fell in all three doubles matches.
Sixth-year head coach Matt Tyler said although doubles were a struggle, he was proud of the way the team refocused and swept all six singles matches for the historic 15th victory.
“Fortunately. we are really good in singles and that’s about all the consolation I have,” Tyler said. “I can’t explain [why we have trouble in doubles] because we practice really well. I think it’s a testament to how well we refocus and come out with energy in the singles and were still able to win.”
Wijesinghe, who has an 11-8 doubles record, said it’s important to have the confidence to still win after losing the doubles point. She said the doubles game is much faster and the team cannot afford slow starts.
“[Losing] fires me up because there’s a chip on your shoulder,” Wijesinghe said. “We have shown that we can play really good singles this semester and we can rely on that in times when our doubles isn’t going how we want it. We just need to be more ready to go at the start.”
Only one singles match went to a third set tiebreaker that Lojpur took 10-1. The freshman persevered and her opponent double-faulted twice.
Barbery and Lojpur’s victories made them the first Braves to have undefeated MVC seasons. Lojpur set the mark for most singles wins as a freshman at 23 but, more notably, set the program record at the No. 2 position with 16 wins.
Tyler said the historic season is the pay off for months of hard work and effort.
“I gotta give full credit to the group of young ladies that I get to coach and my assistant coach [Steve Tyler, my dad],” Tyler said. “They come every day with a great attitude and work super hard. When you combine that with great team camaraderie, you end up with seasons like this. We are just seeing everything come together. We have been able to stay focused and have great energy 15 times.”
The solidarity of the team could be a credit to its two graduating seniors Wijesinghe and Haight. Haight, a redshirt junior, played for a year and a half before taking two years off for nursing school and returning for her last semester of college.
Wijesinghe touched upon the pre-match ceremony and being able to play with her best friend one last time in Peoria.
“It was special for all of us today, our teammates and [vice president for student affairs] Nathan Thomas’ kids brought us flowers,” Wijesinghe said. “It’s a blast to play with [Haight], she’s my roommate, my best friend and it’s been a lot of fun to have her back and I think it’s one of the best decisions she’s made.”
Tyler said the seniors pushed the team in the right direction daily.
“They both bring a lot of leadership and there’s never been a day when they haven’t lifted up their teammates,” Tyler said. “They are people we can count on to have positive energy.”
Bradley sports four 20-plus singles match winners and Perlwitz has 18 heading into the conference tournament.
The Braves will be in Cedar Falls, Iowa for the MVC Championship this weekend. They are seeded at the No. 3 position and play UNI at 5 p.m. Friday.