Women’s Tennis wins big at ITA Atlantic Regional Tournament

West Liberty’s tennis team.

The West Liberty University women’s tennis team’s season is officially in full swing, as the talented group continues to impress.

Last season, the Lady Toppers laid claim to a respectable 7-6 record, including team wins over California University of Pennsylvania, Seton Hill University, West Virginia Wesleyan College (twice), Frostburg State University, Fairmont State University and Davis and Elkins College.

Although last season was quite strong for the Hilltoppers, they ultimately fell short against the University of Charleston in the Mountain East Conference tournament. With two impressive showings during the Crosstown Challenge and Oberlin Invitational, the Hilltoppers found themselves truly shining during the ITA Atlantic Regional.

The Hilltoppers women’s tennis team is led by head coach Heather Gallanger. Gallanger has quite the storied history with the black and gold, with her resume certainly proving it.

Gallanger was once a Hilltopper tennis star herself and is now approaching almost two decades of coaching appearance. With the arrival of the 2021-22 season, this will mark the 19th season Coach Gallenger has led the Hilltoppers, with multiple accomplishments seen along the way. During her time, her squads have posted nine NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, including two conference championships and three conference runner-ups.

As a player, Gallanger won the 1998 WVIAC singles championship, along with back-to-back duo’s championships in 1998 and 1999 with teammate and West Liberty University Hall of Fame inductee, Tara Elkin. Also listed on the WLU Tennis support staff is student assistant Sarah Rager, who begins her first season. Rager’s tennis career was highlighted during her time in Elkins High School, and is currently majoring in Dental Hygiene.

Last weekend, Gallanger was undoubtedly impressed with her team’s performance, as according to hilltoppersports.com, she stated that, “we compete in this event every year…but this was the best overall showing we’ve had in quite some time.”

What is unique about this Lady Toppers team is the lack of upperclassmen, as there are no current juniors or seniors listed on the West Liberty roster. Rather, the group is riding a youthful wave in hopes of continuing to develop as a team. As a whole, the Hilltoppers are headlined by Sophomores Ishika Agarwal, Gemma Cliffe, Katie Loader, Jaqueline Pena-Aceves, and Nathalia Valencia. Wrapping up the team are Freshmen Emma Arnal, Elysia Benyon, Evelina Martirsoyan, Daria Shchoma, and Kayva Singh.

Reigning All Mountain East Conference selection Nathalia Valencia set the standard for West Liberty during the ITA Atlantic Regional, winning five straight en route to the finals, where the championship match was defaulted to both Valencia and Roisin Murphy of Mercyhurst due to match cancellation. Valencia did not let that sway her, however, as she and duo partner Daria Shchoma were unbeaten in their bracket. Unfortunately, yet another shared championship was defaulted, but nonetheless to West Liberty’s pleasure. Kayva Singh made a name for herself during her matches, winning five straight following an opening match loss to lay claim to her title match.

Singh made a run with duo partner Ishika Agarwal, but was unfortunately defeated in the tournament quarterfinals match.

Both freshmen Evelina Martirsoyan and Emma Arnal fared well during the tournament, winning some, but both were beaten, Martirsoyan in the round of 16, and Arnal shortly after.

It is easy to see that West Liberty performed well during the ITA Atlantic Regional, which certainly brings optimism for the season to come.

Up next for the Hilltoppers, they host the Hilltopper Invitational Oct. 15 and 16. With the success West Liberty tennis have not only been having individually, but rather overall as team, it will be exciting to see how the group continues on with this success moving forward.