The Northwestern State tennis team returns to the court for the first time in 2020 as it begins dual match play with a trip to LSU on Saturday.
The contest begins at noon and is the first dual match of the season for both teams.
“We look forward to opening our season at LSU,” head coach Patric DuBois said. “All of the ladies came back in good shape and we have been practicing well.
“LSU has a very solid team and we know how important it is to compete hard on every court.”
NSU aims to improve upon last year’s second-place conference finish as it attempts to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. The Lady Demons finished 18-6 and 9-2 in league play and advanced to the tournament semifinals.
The Lady Demons are led by seniors Ela Iwaniuk, Judit Castillo Gargallo and Emilija Dancetovic.
Iwaniuk had an impressive season in 2019, going 17-4 in singles play. She was the second-team All-Southland selection at the No. 4 spot in the rotation, her second all-conference selection in as many years. Her 17 singles wins are tied for 10th in single-season program history.
Along with Iwaniuk, Castillo Gargallo also was a second-team all-conference singles choice last season, as well as a first-team doubles nod alongside partner Dancetovic.
Heading into her final season with NSU, Castillo Gargallo ranks 22nd in program history in singles wins (42) and is currently seventh in singles winning percentage (75 percent). Ten more singles wins and she would crack the top 10.
Castillo Gargallo, a Teruel, Spain, native, registered a 15-4 record with a 6-2 record in league action, playing primarily at the No. 6 spot.
Dancetovic went 15-5 in doubles competition to earn the first-team All-Southland selection with Castillo Gargallo. She has 34 career doubles victories and recording six more would move her into the top 20 and tie her with former teammate Polina Mutel.
Junior Patrycja Polanska was 12-9 in singles and 14-7 in doubles in her first year of competition with NSU in 2018, playing mostly at the No. 4 spot in the rotation.
The Lady Demons added four new faces to the squad: Olivia Alfredsson, Mariella Minetti, Thitirat “Gig” Kanaphuet and Dorota Szczygielska.
Alfredsson and Minetti made their presence felt in the fall tournaments. Alfredsson, a freshman from Gothenburg, Sweden, won her draw in the Natchitoches Women’s Care/Lady Demon Invitational, the first fall tournament of the season. She followed that up by winning her draw in the UCA Invitational.
In the ITA Southern Regional, Minetti, a freshman from Tampere, Finland, advanced to the third round, defeating Auburn’s Georgia Axon to get there.
Szczygielska, a freshman from Gdynia, Poland, reached the second round of the ITA Southern Regional with partner Castillo Gargallo. Kanaphuet is a freshman from Chonburi, Thailand, who joined the team in December.
LSU leads the all-time series 19-0, and the Tigers won the previous matchup 7-0 in 2018 in Baton Rouge.
Last season, LSU finished 17-12 and made the NCAA Tournament and defeated San Diego in the first round before losing to UCLA.
The Tigers are ranked just outside the top 25 as a team in the first polls of the season. Individually, LSU has three ranked in the top 105 in the player singles rankings.
Taylor Bridges, who primarily played at the No. 3 spot in the rotation last year, is No. 42 in the rankings. Touted freshman Safiya Carrington is No. 61 and senior Paris Corley checks in at No. 105. That doesn’t include Eden Richardson, the reigning Louisiana Player of the Year. She went 13-9 last season at the top spot in the rotation and 8-3 in SEC play.
Following the match at LSU, the Lady Demons return to Natchitoches for their home opener in a doubleheader against LSU-Alexandria on Jan. 25 at the Jack Fisher Tennis Complex.