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Big South Women's Tennis Championship Preview
Despite a tough start to the 2012 slate, the Liberty women's tennis team found its stride on its annual spring break trip and will take momentum into the 2012 Big South Women's Tennis Championship. Play is slated to begin Thursday, in Asheville, N.C., and will conclude Saturday with the final match.
Through its first 10 games, the Lady Flames had secured just one win. However, the second half of the regular season featured a complete turnaround for the team, as they won 10 of their last 12 matches. Liberty recorded a six match win streak during the span, including 4-3 wins over conference foes Radford and Campbell. The squad finished its regular season at 11-11 overall, and 4-4 in Big South play for the No. 6 seed in this week's event.
2011 Big South Freshman of the Year Cameron Richard also had a strong turnaround this spring. The Birmingham, Ala., native posted seven consecutive singles wins to match her career best, helping her finish the regular season with 10 wins, mostly in the No. 2 position. Freshman Brittany Yang leads the team with 11 singles wins, playing the middle portion of head coach Chris Johnson's lineup. Senior Carol Lobel is also a double-digit winner, claiming 10 wins.
In doubles play, the Lady Flames No. 1 and No. 2 combos of Richard-Yang and Jenkins-Alexandra Sheeran have each won eight matches. Both pairs have also gone 3-4 in conference action.
First Round – Thursday – No earlier than 3:30 p.m. vs. No. 3 Seed Coastal Carolina
Liberty will match up with Coastal Carolina in the first round, Thursday. With the regular-season matchup taking place back on Feb. 25, the Lady Flames will surely have more momentum as they take on the Chanticleers this time around. In the first meeting, homestanding Coastal Carolina claimed a 6-1 victory, with freshman Nicola Wellman providing the sole point for the Lady Flames. After last season's loss to the Chanticleers in the semifinals of the year-end tournament, Liberty is 0-3 all-time against Coastal Carolina in Big South Championship history.
Coastal Carolina concluded the 2012 regular season with a 16-5 record, going 6-2 in Big South play. Their defeats came against Winthrop (6-1) and Charleston Southern (4-3).
The Chanticleers boast five players who have posted double-digit win totals thus far, led by Katie Fasnacht and Diana Mortlock, with 17 apiece. Miki Bunea and Mikaela Kristofersson each have 14 wins, while Kourtney Kowal has claimed 11 wins. Bunea and Mortlock serve as the team's No. 1 and No. 2 players in the lineup.
Coastal Carolina has been particularly strong in doubles, going 45-15 this season, including a 20-4 record in conference play. Fasnacht and Kristofersson have 16 victories playing at No. 2.
Semifinals – Friday – 1 p.m. vs. No. 2 Charleston Southern or No. 7 Campbell
If the Lady Flames upset the Chanticleers, either Charleston Southern or Campbell, who play at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, will await in the next round. In the regular season, the Bucs earned a 5-2 victory over the Camels.
Liberty fell to Charleston Southern at the Bucs' home courts, 6-1, but defeated the Camels, 4-3, in Lynchburg, this season.
Charleston Southern finished the regular-season slate with a 15-3 record, falling just once in conference play.
Five Buccaneers have recorded double-digit win totals, led by Yvonne Hubler and Alexandra Walters, who claimed 15 wins apiece. Olga Makhova has held down the No. 1 slot, going 12-4.
In doubles, Hubler and Walters have fittingly formed the strongest tandem. The pair has gone11-5 overall and 6-2 in conference play.
Despite an 11-7 overall record this spring, the Camels recorded a 2-6 mark in their first year back in the Big South Conference. Campbell's wins came over UNC Asheville and Presbyterian College.
The Camels also had five players conclude the regular season with double-digit win totals. Karolina Chernaya won 12 matches, all coming at No. 1. Natasha Afridi also has 12 victories, playing the No. 2 and No. 3 positions.
Chernaya and Borislava Nikolova were by far the team's strongest doubles pair. The duo went 13-3 through the regular season and went 6-2 in conference play.
Finals – Saturday – 9 a.m.
If the Lady Flames secure a pair of victories and advance to the championship match, one of four teams will be waiting from the upper half of the bracket. Winthrop is most likely the favorite, as the Eagles produced an unbeaten mark of 8-0 in conference play this season. Charleston Southern gave Winthrop the closest match, but still fell by a 5-2 margin.
A championship preview will be provided Friday if the Lady Flames advance to the final match of the weekend.
Liberty's best showing at the year-end event has been advancing to the semifinal round, doing so on four occasions: 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011.