#16 Fresno State is the heavy favorite to repeat as champions when the Western Athletic Conference tennis tournament opens Thursday in Honolulu. Fresno State has won seven consecutive WAC titles, the last three over Boise State.
The talented Bulldogs thumped the second-place Broncos 6-1 last weekend, giving them a huge mental advantage over the rest of the field. #36 Boise State is 7-1 in the WAC and 21-3 overall but has been playing a light schedule that obviously left them unprepared for the superior Bulldogs. Nevertheless, the Lady Broncos are still the #2 seed and will take on #7 seed Utah State in the first round Wednesday at 4 p.m. Mountain time. Boise State shut out USU 7-0 earlier this season. Should Boise State prevail as the favorite against the Aggies, they would likely meet third-seed Nevada in the semifinals.
That too is a must-win for Boise State, not only to give them a rematch against Fresno State in the WAC finals but also in a larger view to help the Broncos take the WAC Commissioner's Cup away from Nevada. Nevada is projected to win the Cup by over four points and a Pack win over the Boise State women would just about cement the Cup for Nevada. The Broncos downed #66 Nevada 5-2 earlier this season.
The Bulldogs have won ten straight matches and 16 of their last 17, with the lone blemish being a 4-3 loss to #1 Northwestern. Fresno State's only other losses were to #9 Georgia Tech, #11 UCLA, #12 Clemson and #15 Florida--that's it. The Bulldogs own wins over #8 California and #19 Vanderbilt. FSU has shut out every WAC team except Boise State and host Hawai'i (whom they also beat 6-1).
Fresno features three of the nation's top 100 players--#19 Melanie Gloria, #28 Anastasia Petukhova and #89 Renata Kucerkova. Gloria, a senior from Montreal, has a superb 33-11 singles record and is 30-7 in doubles, She won the Northwest Regional indoors single title, downing #7 Marina Cossou of California in the semifinals. Gloria was selected to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) All-American tournament, where she reached the consolation semifinals. Gloria and partner Tinesta Rowe were ranked #1 in the nation in the preseason. Rowe is 17-5 at #4 singles, the position she'll likely play in the tournament.
Petukhova, a junior from Moscow, Russia, is 27-11 in singles and (with Kucerkova) is a sparking 37-3 in doubles. All Petukhova and Kucerkova have done is win the ITA National Indoor doubles championship and the ITA Northwest Regional Championship and reached the finals of the ITA All-American doubles championship. Kucerkova is a junior from the Czech Republic, sporting a 26-7 mark in singles.
Laura Pola is 27-12, including a 17-6 record at #5 singles. Bruna Paes is Fresno's likely #6 singles player with a 9-1 record at that position.
It will take a perfect effort from top to bottom to unseat the seven-time defending WAC champions. Coach Mark Tichenor's Broncos would score a huge upset if they pull it off. #83 Pichittra Thongdach, an All-WAC player last season as a sophomore, is 24-8 this season and 29-4 in doubles play. Freshman Lauren Megale is #118 in the nation with a record of 32-7 in singles and 30-6 in doubles.
Vivian Silfany (19-6) is 13-2 at #3 singles for the Broncos. Bianca Jochimsen is 7-6 at #4 (18-15 overall) and could play there in the championships. Klaudia Wlodarczyk (26-12) is the likely #5 for Boise State, while Senior Jana Mackova (12-2 in singles and 13-3 in doubles) or Laura Baum (21-4) gets the nod at #6 singles.
Caroline Bailey (17-14) is Nevada's top player. Florence DeVrye (19-13) will go at #2 singles with Maria Mizyuk (13-5) at #3, Caroline Stevens or Lais Ogate (at the 4 and 5 positions) and Aodhnait Lombard likely at #6 singles..
Tournament Schedule (Mountain Time):
Thursday, April 23 (First Rounds)
1 pm - #8
1 pm - #3
4 pm - #4
4 pm - #2
7 pm - #1
Friday, April 24 (Semifinals)
4 pm – Winner of Nevada/Idaho match vs. Winner of Boise State/Utah State match
7 pm – Winner of Fresno State/Play-In Match Winner vs. Winner Hawaii/New Mexico State match
Saturday, April 25 (Finals)
4 pm – Championship Match (Winners of Each Semifinal)