LIU women’s tennis’ dream season ends in Malibu
Blackbirds Fall to No. 12 Pepperdine in Opening Round of NCAA Tournament
First-year LIU-Brooklyn women’s tennis coach Anthony Davison admitted he was curious to see how his Blackbirds would compete against one of the nation’s powerhouse programs during the opening round of the NCAA Tournament last weekend.
“We are really excited about the opportunity to go to California to play one of the best teams in the country,” Davison told the Brooklyn Eagle ahead of his newly crowned Northeast Conference champion Blackbirds’ trip to sun-splashed Malibu to take on No. 12 Pepperdine.
“It’s a great opportunity for us and it will be very interesting to see our level against theirs.”
Though the Waves were certainly playing on a higher level, the Blackbirds (13-5) proved they could go head-to-head with their heavily favored foes, and then some, before seeing their dream season end with a 4-0 loss to the host school Friday afternoon.
Freshman Ana Leonte and NEC Player of the Year Anna Grigoryan gave Pepperdine’s Christine Maddox and Mayar Sherif, better known as the No. 8 pairing in the entire nation, a run for their money before falling short in a 6-3 loss during doubles play.
LIU senior Isabella Wagener capped her brilliant career as a Blackbird with her best performance, leading Dzina Milovanovic, 5-1, in the second set after dropping the first, 2-6, before the match was called due to the results on the other courts.
“It was amazing for her to sign off in style,” Davison said of Wagener’s swan song effort.
Despite the sweep, the Blackbirds (13-5) certainly competed hard and held their own against a roster featuring a handful of the top 40 collegiate players in the country.
The Waves have won 18 consecutive matches, including 13 sweeps, and knocked off No. 23 UCLA, 4-1, on Saturday to advance to next weekend’s Sweet 16.
“Pepperdine [is] a fantastic team who I predict [will] do extremely well in this year’s bracket,” Davison said Tuesday morning via email.
“But our team rose to the occasion and definitely did themselves proud,” he added. “We hung with them and pushed them at certain spots. We showed great fight and determination. I was extremely proud of the attitude and performance.”
The Blackbirds will now focus on the future as they will likely be favored to grab a second consecutive NEC crown in 2018 following this worst-to-first history making run through the conference.
But first, they had to stop and pick up their accolades from 2017.
Coupled with sophomore Grigoryan’s Player of the Year honor, freshman sensation Sasha Bollweg was tabbed the NEC’s Rookie of the Year and Davison took home top coaching honors to complete a sweep of the major awards handed out by the league at the end of each season.
Last September, when Davison took the job, he only had four players on the roster and the Blackbirds were coming off a brutal 1-13 campaign that saw them get ousted in the opening round of the NEC Tournament.
Eight months later, LIU tennis is back atop the conference for the first time since capturing back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.
The Blackbirds also reeled off eight consecutive wins, including sweeps in all three of their NEC Tournament matches, before falling to the Waves on Friday.
With Wagener the only departing senior on the roster, the Blackbirds are set up nicely for 2018 and beyond.
“It shows we have what it takes to get to the next level, and with the right additions to the team next year we can keep going in the right direction,” Davison noted.
Grigoryan, who was the reigning NEC Rookie of the Year, went 12-4 overall this past season, including 11-2 at the No. 1 flight, meaning she consistently beat the top singles players she went up against throughout the campaign.
Bollweg didn’t show any freshman jitters, amassing an impressive 13-3 record this year, with her only losses coming against opponents from non-conference programs.
And she was far from the only first-year player that contributed to this amazing run.
Freshmen standouts Jennifer Gogova and Leonte combined with Bollweg to give the Blackbirds an outstanding 33-18 cumulative record from their first-year talent.
“As far as the season as a whole goes we are all extremely happy,” Davison admitted.
“That being said, we want to continue pushing on and to keep improving for next year.”
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In other LIU-Brooklyn sports news, senior catcher Harrison Preschel was named the NEC’s Baseball Player of the Week on Monday afternoon.
Preschel led the Blackbirds’ offensive attack during a crucial four-game sweep of NEC rival Fairleigh Dickinson over the weekend.
Competing in his hometown of Teaneck, N.J., the fourth-year backstop picked up at least one hit in each victory while reaching base safely at a .556 clip.
Preschel batted .500 (8-for-16) with one double, two walks, four RBI five runs scored and two stolen bases. He produced back-to-back three-hit performances during Friday’s doubleheader sweep.
Preschel also reached base safely four times and scored twice during a 12-8 series-opening triumph.
The Garden State product went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, two steals and two runs in Game 2, a 12-6 victory for LIU. His two-run single bumped the Blackbirds’ lead to 6-1 in the second inning.
He also plated the team’s 10th run of the game by lacing a first-pitch single in the sixth.
Preschel opened the scoring in Game 3, sending a two-out, run-scoring single up the middle in the opening frame. He reached base two times in the series finale, including a walk to load the bases during the decisive 10th inning.
Preschel, who was not charged with a passed ball during the series, caught two Knights stealing from behind the dish.
The Blackbirds (21-24 overall, 11-11 NEC) were scheduled to host St. John’s here on Tuesday afternoon before closing out the regular season with a four-game set against Sacred Heart, which is just a half-game behind LIU for third place in the NEC.
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