LIU women’s tennis hits the beach for NCAA Tourney
Head to Malibu to Take on 11th-Ranked Pepperdine in Opening Round
The LIU Brooklyn women’s tennis team went from managing only one win a year ago to capturing the Northeast Conference championship this season.
Their reward? A trip to Malibu, California.
The Blackbirds, gathered en masse Tuesday evening for the NCAA Tournament selection show, found out they would be facing 11th-ranked Pepperdine at Malibu’s Ralphs-Straus Tennis Center on May 12 in the opening round of the national championships.
That means first-year head coach Anthony Davison’s squad will be leaving Downtown Brooklyn and traveling across the nation next week to one of the West Coast’s toniest and most sun-splashed locales.
“The ladies went crazy when they heard the news, we couldn’t have picked a better location,” Davison told the Eagle shortly after the Blackbirds found out the destination of their first NCAA Tournament match since LIU won back-to-back NEC crowns in 2009-’10.
“We are really excited about the opportunity to go to California to play one of the best teams in the country,” he added. “It’s a great opportunity for us and it will be very interesting to see our level against theirs.”
The Blackbirds (13-5) will carry a season-high eight-match winning streak into the Golden State after sweeping through their last three opponents in the NEC Tournament, including a 4-0 whitewashing of defending champion Fairleigh Dickinson in West Windsor, N.J., on April 23.
The third title in the program’s history was hardly expected after Davison took over the squad last September, having just four of the necessary six players in place to field a team.
But fast-contributing freshmen like Sasha Bollweg, Jennifer Gogova and Ana Leonte, coupled with the veteran trio of Senior Isabella Wagener and sophomores Anna Grigoryan and Malin Leysen, came together as the season wore on, helping the Blackbirds orchestrate an historic one-year turnaround.
Now comes the team’s biggest challenge yet.
Pepperdine has ripped off five straight West Coast Conference championships, going 21-4 this past season, including a perfect 11-0 in league play.
They will be hosting the first and second round of the NCAAs for the second straight year, taking on LIU fat 4 p.m., EDT on the Friday after next.
If they somehow get past Pepperdine, the Blackbirds would meet the winner of No. 23 UCLA and UC Santa Barbara on Saturday, May 13.
But for now, the Blackbirds are simply focusing on sharpening their focus for an opponent they have never faced.
The aptly named Waves swept the WCC’s top honors for the third consecutive year as Per Nilsson was named the league’s Coach of the Year, Luisa Stefani captured Player of the Year honors and Ashley Lahey received Freshman of the Year accolades.
“We will prepare how we have all season, keep the routine that has seen us do well the same and work on some specifics individually and as a team that could help us in the match,” Davison said.
“It will be my first NCAA appearance as a head coach and I’m going to make sure the team gives it all they’ve got.”
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In other local college sports news, former St. Francis Brooklyn power forward Chris Hooper is flashing his skills at the professional level in the United Kingdom.
The 6-foot-6 2016 alum of the Remsen Street school was named the Eurobasket.com All-British NBL Division One League Player of the Year by Eurobasket.com last week.
Hooper was also selected as the Center of the Year and the Import of the Year after averaging 22.4 points and 12.3 rebounds per game, and leading the Reading Rockets (UK) to a 27-10 record in his debut season.
In addition, the Harlem native shot a sizzling 68.1 percent from the floor and added 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals per contest.
Hooper was part of the Terriers team that went all the way to the NEC Tournament Final in 2015 before suffering a heartbreaking 66-63 loss to visiting Robert Morris at the Pope Center, denying SFC its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The next year as a senior, Hooper averaged 12.2 points per game before turning his attention to playing professionally overseas.
“Playing professional basketball would be a dream come true,” Hooper said after officially hiring an agent in April of 2016. “I would like to thank my coaching staff here at St. Francis Brooklyn for helping me achieve this great opportunity.”
“Chris has done a tremendous job of working hard on his overall game since entering our program and we are very proud of his accomplishments both on and off the court,” Terriers head coach and Brooklyn native Glenn Braica added.
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