LIU-Brooklyn women’s tennis team sweeps to NCAAs
Blackbirds Grab First NEC Championship Since 2010 Under New Head Coach
When new LIU Brooklyn women’s tennis head coach Anthony Davison showed up at the Downtown school last September, the Blackbirds were coming off a 1-13 season, a first-round exit from the Northeast Conference Tournament, and were two players shy of the six needed to field a team.
Not exactly the type of premise that leads a first-year coach to start dreaming of championships.
But just seven months later, the Blackbirds miraculously swept their way to their first NEC title since 2010 Sunday afternoon in West Windsor, N.J., and are eagerly waiting to find out whom their opponents will be in next month’s NCAA Tournament.
“At the time, we only had four players, and you need six in a college tennis match so my two main focuses were: lifting the team morale and getting them to believe in themselves again, and recruiting two players for January,” Davison recalled to the Eagle on Wednesday.
Davison was coming off a season as a volunteer assistant at Columbia University, where he helped the Lions to a No. 32 ranking in the entire nation, after spending the previous four years as an independent coach and tennis pro.
The former four-year standout and team captain at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte quickly turned his attention to filling out the Blackbirds’ squad, which he did quite ably, landing freshman contributors Sasha Bollweg of Australia and Ana Leonte of Switzerland.
But it was the core four players LIU already had in place that made Davison believe this could be a special season.
Senior Isabella Wagener, sophomores Anna Grigoryan and Malin Leysen and freshman Jennifer Gogova were eager to help the Blackbirds bounce back from their disastrous 2015-16 campaign, during which LIU beat only SFC Brooklyn in 14 matches.
“I was fortunate to inherit a team with four great players who really wanted to turn it around and we had a good fall semester preparing for the season,” noted Davison.
“The recruits I brought in … fit in great too, were very successful. [They were] better than I could ever have imagined seeing as they were brought in at such short notice.”
The Blackbirds did endure some growing pains, splitting their 10 non-conference matches before catching fire once the NEC campaign began.
LIU ripped off eight straight wins, including five in a row in conference play and clean sweeps in each of its three tournament matches, to grab the program’s third title overall, the previous two coming in back-to-back fashion in 2009-10.
“The season went great, we beat teams who we were not expected to beat and fought hard in our few losses,” said Davison, whose team sent an early message to reigning champion Fairleigh Dickinson with a narrow 4-3 victory in Hackensack, N.J., on April 14.
“Fortunately, we peaked at the right time and entered the NEC tournament on the back of five solid wins,” Davison said of his top-seeded unit. “We carried the momentum with us and performed great in the tournament.”
That performance included 4-0 blankings of SFC Brooklyn, St. Francis University and Sunday’s rematch with FDU.
LIU opened the title tilt by taking the doubles point from the defending NEC champions.
In the No. 3 doubles spot, Gogova and Wagener cruised to a convincing 6-1 win, Grigoryan and Leonte secured the doubles point with a 6-2 triumph and Leysen and Bollweg were leading the No. 2 doubles, 4-1, when the point was called.
Bollweg dominated the No. 2 flight with a 6-1, 6-3 victory and Leysen boosted the Blackbirds’ advantage with a 6-2, 6-3 win in the No. 4 singles spot.
Grigoryan, who had lost to FDU’s top player Shreya Pasricha less than two weeks earlier in a third-set super tiebreaker, rose to the challenge of avenging that defeat and clinched the crown for LIU with a 7-5, 6-2 win in the No. 1 singles spot.
Going from worst to first isn’t easy in any sport, especially one that relies so heavily on players working in tandem, not only on match day but during the practice time that leads up to it.
“I think our preparation was key, we were at the tournament site first every day warming up and we really looked like a close group at all times,” Davison said.
Davison’s squad embraced the challenge of rising to the top of the NEC, and now it will try to continue this historic run in the NCAA Tournament, which will begin the weekend of March 13-14.
The Blackbirds will find out who they face on Saturday, when the NCAA reveals its first-round regional draw.
“We are excited about [it],” Davison said.
The SFC women, who finished a 1-15 campaign with last Friday’s first-round tournament ousting at the hands of the Blackbirds, hope to find themselves competing for NEC titles soon, as well.
“Our team is still developing and for the girls, we’re all new — we’re figuring out how to work as a team,” said freshman Runsi Patro.
“I think the next few seasons are going to be a lot better because it’s a starting point for all of us. A lot of the teams we play against are mix of seniors and juniors, we’re mostly freshman. They have a feel for the championships, tournaments, courts and the atmosphere. We’re still getting adjusted.”
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