HARDIN — Murray State women’s tennis opened the 2021 season in style on Thursday, rolling to a 7-0 victory over the Lions of North Alabama at the Kenlake Tennis Center in Hardin.
“It was a great way to start the season,” said MSU head coach Jorge Caetano. “It’s been so long since our last match last March, and we could definitely see some rust in our game, but the girls responded really well and we’re just very excited to compete again. North Alabama pushed us throughout the match, and I think we did a phenomenal job when facing adversity.”
The Racers earned the doubles point after all three pairs triumphed comfortably. At No. 1 doubles, Stasya Sharapova and Natalie Slezakova cruised to a 6-1 win, while the duos of Marit Kreugel/Sarah Bureau and Sara Loncarevic/Gabrielle Geolier both came out on top with a score of 6-2 at the No. 2 and No. 3 spots respectively.
“I was very surprised with how well we played doubles today given that we haven’t played in 10 months,” Caetano added. “I felt like we started just where we left off last year, and it was great to see how we were able to dominate a good team such as UNA during doubles.”
In singles, Sara Loncarevic (4-6, 6-2, 6-3) and Stasya Sharapova (6-4, 5-7, 6-3) proved their mental and physical toughness, hanging strong to earn three-set victories at the No. 1 and No. 2 positions.
“We started slow in singles and were down in three of the four courts,” Caetano said. “We need to do a better job at that next time, but I felt like everyone stepped up when their numbers were called and that’s great to see. Sara and Stasya did not play particularly well overall but were able to raise their level in the big moments - showing they can anchor our team at No. 1 and No. 2.”
Playing in their first matches in a Racer uniform, freshmen Sarah Bureau (6-1, 6-4) and Gabrielle Geolier (2-6, 6-3, 6-1) looked as experienced as they come – notching wins at the No. 3 and No. 4 positions, respectively.
“I wanted to see Gaby and Sarah competing for us for the first time ever and they didn’t disappoint,” Caetano said. “Gaby did a great job digging deep and finding solutions when her opponent was controlling the match. Sarah couldn’t have started any better, but when things got tougher and she was down 3-0 in the second set, she kept her composure and came back with some big shots to get the win in straight sets.”
Building on the strong foundation she built during her freshman campaign, sophomore Marit Kreugel was locked in from the first serve of the match – earning a decisive 6-0, 6-1 straight-sets victory at No. 5 singles.
“Marit picked up where she left off last year and simply dominated her opponent from start to finish,” Caetano said.
Finally, perhaps the biggest story of the day came at No. 6 singles where Natalie Slezakova (6-4, 6-1) glided to a triumph in straight sets after the sophomore from the Czech Republic missed her entire freshman spring season due to injury a year ago.
“Natalie was the highlight of the day for us all,” Caetano said. “After not being able to compete for 15 months due to injury, it was awesome to see her on the court again. I knew she was going to be rusty, but once she settled in, she was able to produce some good tennis and we all could not be happier for her.”
The Racers will return to action on Saturday when they travel to SEC opponent Missouri for a pair of matches against the Tigers. Matches are slated to begin at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.