By Jonathon Zenk, NSU Sports Information Graduate Assistant
HUNTSVILLE, Texas– The league-leading Northwestern State Lady Demon tennis team wraps up its road portion of the schedule with a Friday visit to Sam Houston State that looms large in the Southland Conference championship race.
NSU will also visit rival Stephen F. Austin on Sunday in another Southland match. Both contests are at 1 p.m.
NSU (15-3 overall, 7-0 Southland) has a two-match winning streak, having defeated conference foes McNeese and Southeastern Louisiana. The Lady Demons are one of two unbeaten teams in the conference, with Abilene Christian being the other.
SHSU (11-5, 5-2) had a four-match win streak snapped last Sunday with a 5-2 loss to Lamar, while SFA (6-10, 2-5) has lost three consecutive overall, and its last five in conference play.
“Our conference is as tough as I’ve seen it,” head coach Patric DuBois said. “Any match on the road is very difficult since you’re in different surroundings. Sam Houston State certainly has a very strong team, and it has proven it with its record so far. We have a battle ahead of us Friday.”
Junior Ela Iwaniuk leads four Lady Demons in double digits in wins, owning 13 at No. 5 singles. The Konarskie, Poland, native is a perfect 7-0 in conference, as is redshirt freshman Rhea Verma.
Iwaniuk is 11-1 at the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Verma is 12-4 overall and a perfect 9-0 at No. 3 singles.
“Both (Iwaniuk and Verma) are doing what they need to do in each match,” DuBois said. “Each one of them has their gameplan, and each have their strengths.
“They plan on controlling and dictating each match around their strengths and if they can’t do something their opponent does, they’ve both proven they can adapt to whatever their opponent does.”
Tied with Verma in total wins is junior Judit Castillo Gargallo, who is also 12-4 at No. 6. Castillo Gargallo is 4-2 in conference play.
Sophomore Patrycja Polanska is 10-5 in her first season of competition at NSU at No. 4, while senior Polina Mutel came through with a big victory against Southeastern Louisiana to even her record at 5-5 on the season. She is 3-4 in Southland play at No. 1.
The Lady Demons have regained their mojo in doubles, having won two in a row following dropping two straight conference doubles points against Central Arkansas and Lamar.
New partners Mutel and Iwaniuk started playing consistently as the No. 1 pairing against McNeese. After that win, they led their opponents from SLU 5-3 and 30-0 in the game before play ended after the Lady Demons clinched the doubles point.
“We’ve been practicing for two years,” Iwaniuk said. “When I switched to play doubles with her, we knew what to expect from each other. We match well with each other in doubles.”
Castillo Gargallo and fellow junior Emilija Dancetovic lead the way in doubles wins, as the duo sports a 13-3 record at No. 3, including 5-2 in conference. Polanska and Verma are 4-3 in conference at No. 2, and 11-5 overall.
The Lady Demons return home next weekend when they play host to Abilene Christian Friday, April 12 before honoring Mutel on Senior Day when they host Incarnate Word April 14.