It was a disappointing end to an otherwise successful season for Bradley tennis, which finished the 2021 campaign with a 4-3 loss in the MVC Team Tournament quarterfinals last Friday at the hands of Drake.
For the second time this season, the Braves clinched the doubles point over the Bulldogs to take an early lead. Junior Sandra Maletin and freshman Victoria Sanchez-Bronzetti won 6-4 at No. 1 doubles and sophomores Nikki Perlwitz and Bozana Lojpur won at No. 3 by a score of 6-1.
Singles did not go quite as well for the Braves compared their regular season match against Drake, and it ended up being the deciding factor. Fresh off an all-MVC selection at No. 6 singles, Perlwitz capped off her seven-match win streak to end the year with a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 victory. Lojpur, an All-Select inductee at No. 2 singles, bounced back from a tough loss at Valpo to win the only other singles match for the Braves, 6-2, 6-4.
As the other All-Select honoree for Bradley, Maletin could not come up with the win at No. 1 singles, dropping only her fourth singles match of the year 2-6, 7-5, 2-6. Last week, she said that the team’s key elements to a win just weren’t there.
“A lot of things could be better,” Maletin said. “The energy of the team could’ve been better. For me, at least, I think I could’ve played better overall because I don’t think I played good.”
After a 6-2 win in the first set, senior Natalia Barbery couldn’t close the deal at No. 5 as Drake’s Darinka Stepan won the last two sets 6-1, 6-4 to clinch the 4-3 victory for the Bulldogs. Drake then went on to win the entire tournament, outlasting both Illinois State and Missouri State on their way to the crown.
“I gotta give Drake a lot of credit,” head coach Matt Tyler said. “I think they played well, as evidenced by the fact that they won the entire thing, and we just got outplayed. The girl that Sandra [Maletin] played at No. 1 played probably the best match that I’ve ever seen her play, and in those situations you just kind of have to tip your hat and say, ‘You guys were too good for us today.’”
The Braves were not short on chances, but Tyler said they just couldn’t capitalize.
“We had a lot of opportunities,” Tyler said. “Obviously, [with] Sandra [Maletin] coming back in that second set, she was in a pretty spot going into the third, but the girl played really well, and same thing with Natalia [Barbery] at 5. I felt like we were right there and it just didn’t go our way.”
Despite the abrupt end, this season for the Braves is nothing to hang their heads about. The team’s 10-6 regular season record and 3-2 conference record were good enough for third in a star-studded MVC, and Tyler recounted all the challenges the team had to face to even get to this point.
“The whole COVID thing was just tough all the way around,” Tyler said. “Not being able to travel and do a lot of the team bonding things that we’re used to doing was more of a challenge than what we originally thought it was gonna be.”
Putting a stamp on the 2021 season, Tyler thinks recollection is important so that the team knows what to do better for next year.
“There were a lot of learnings that came out of [this season],” Tyler said. “I think it’s important after every single season to reevaluate how we go about doing things and what we want to do differently going into future years. Some of the frustrations and things that we had allow me as a coach to say, ‘Hey, what can we do better?’ The lesson of perseverance is a very valuable one and I think we showed that.”
Maletin will remember her teammates the most in what was her last year of dual match play.
“We have a good team and good people on the team,” Maletin said. “I know I’ll have friends for life.”
Despite all the obstacles caused by the pandemic, Tyler knows the team had a great season and there’s still more to come for his squad.
“I’m super proud of our team and what they did accomplish,” Tyler said. “Another winning season, which is outstanding; winning five straight to close out the regular season. I’m really proud of our effort all the way around, and [I’m] super excited to have our new additions this next year and get going again in August.”