Fighting for family: Liberty women’s tennis battles on and off the court
The Liberty University women’s tennis team was able to pull off the clean sweep in its weekend series against the Missouri Tigers and the James Madison Dukes, winning 4-0 in both matches. Maria Turchetto, a freshman from Brazil, kept the Flames on top by helping to push her team across the finish line.
Coming out on top in her doubles match 7-6 in a tiebreaker with partner and grad student Marina Davtyan, Turchetto attacked repeatedly at the net, dominating her opponents. She didn’t stop there, winning 6-3 and 6-4 against JMU’s Reka Matko. With incredible determination and power, she fought to help her team triumph over the Dukes.
Senior Esther Lovato also reigned victorious in her singles match, notching her 108th win in her tennis career with a 6-3, 6-0 victory against her opponent.
The next Flame climbing the ladder is redshirt freshman Daniella O’Neill. Without being able to complete in her match on Sunday, O’Neill is still undefeated 3-0 in singles.
“It feels amazing and is a blessing coming from a huge injury last year,” O’Neill said. “(I am) hoping to keep the streak going and will continue to battle and give my heart and soul out on the court.”
She got into a groove with partner junior Priscila Janikian as the duo won another match to make them undefeated in doubles.
“We both have been through similar things, and it makes our relationship so special and understandable,” O’Neill said. “We complement each other’s game so well, and I am very thankful I get to play with her.”
Another standout freshman for the Flames was Sadie Daavettila, who competed at her highest level this weekend and had everyone on their feet. From playing third-seed doubles to first-seed with junior Maria Juliana Parra Romero and competing in her first college career singles match, every fan and teammate there showed her nothing but love.
“I found out yesterday I was playing the first-seed doubles match,” Daavettila said postgame. “I was scared for a second, but my coach reassured me not to be fearful but to have confidence going in.”
Although Daavettila lost her doubles match, that did not stop her from shining in singles. With a powerful backhand and a dazzling serve, Daavettila won two sets with teammates cheering her on.
“I felt amazing, so good and I am on top of the world,” Daavettila said. “I love competing for my team and getting a win for us. I love every girl here; we are like a family.”
Sunday’s match was more than just tennis for this team — it was about family. The team received heartbreaking news that fellow teammate and senior Tiffany Nguyen was in the hospital. Head Coach Jeff Maren stated that before and after the game, she was all the team could think about.
“The girls did a great job of concentrating on tennis during the match,” Maren said. “We quickly started thinking about (Nguyen) as soon as we were all together. I thought it was going to be very difficult without Tiff; she is an important part of the team.”
Cheering each other on during and after rally points, the group encouraged each other to keep mental blinders on and stay focused. With tears in her eyes from not being able to play with her doubles partner and close friend Nguyen, Parra Romero was a clear depiction of how impactful Nguyen’s presence is.
“Something that I learned from Tiff is the passion and love she has for others,” Parra Romero said. “She helped me when I was a freshman, and now I get to do the same thing for Sadie.”
Parra Romero is excelling in her No. 1 spot on the team.
“There will always be pressure, regardless of what position you are playing,” Parra Romero said. “There will always be a target on your back, … but I love the pressure. In those pressure moments, it motivates me to keep going.”
“Their loss to Missouri only showed us they have the ability to beat us if we are not on our game,” Maren said. “Each player raised their level when we needed it to be raised.”
Next up for the Flames is another tough match in the Delaware Blue Hens, who will take on Liberty Feb. 10 at 10 a.m.
Young is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on X