Hilltopper Tennis stomps Frostburg State

The West Liberty University men’s and women’s tennis teams secured a pair of dominant wins this weekend over Frostburg State University to open their Mountain East Conference campaigns. Both squads opened conference play with a perfect 7-0 sweep of the bobcats and continued on from their fine form in the Fall season.

The Lady Toppers had built up a lot of momentum coming into their first competitive match of the season, receiving a pair of first-place votes and ranking No.2 in the annual Mountain East Conference coaches poll last month. WLU also had four players ranked within the Atlantic Region Top 20, with Nathalia Valencia, Gemma Cliffe, Emma Arnal, and Evelina Martirosyan being recognized for their strong performances in the fall season.

Head Coach Heather Gallagher’s Hilltoppers were strong favorites leading into the matchup and they did not fail to deliver, securing an emphatic win over the Frostburg bobcats. They wasted no time in starting their season opener, winning all three doubles matches to secure the first point of the day. Arnal and Martirosyan got the ball rolling with a 6-2 win at No.1 doubles, while Katie Loader and Elysia Beynon won by the same scoreline at No.3, before Cliffe and Schoma took a perfect 6-0 win at No.2.

It was much of the same as play continued into singles action, with the Toppers securing all six games. Cliffe, Valencia, Arnal and Martirosyan each took straight set victories, while sophomores Jacqueline Pena-Aceves and Ishika Argawal commanding wins meant that the Toppers took a 7-0 overall triumph without dropping a single set.

The nature of their win and performances will give WLU even more momentum going into the rest of the season, which leaves players and coaches a lot to be optimistic about. “It was great to start the spring with our first MEC win of the season”, coach Gallgher said. “We’re looking forward to facing strong conference and regional opponents going forward.”

This game meant even more to the Hilltoppers, who dedicated their performance to Ukranian teammate, Daria Shchoma, due to the ongoing conflict in her native country. “At the moment, our team is doing its best to offer special support to freshman Daria Shchoma who is from Ukraine,” said Gallagher. “Her parents are still there in her family home and our hearts are with them and certainly with her everyday.” The West Liberty team wore blue and yellow ribbons during their matches in support of Ukraine and Shchoma.

The WLU men’s tennis team followed suit as they also came out as 7-0 victors in their conference opener against the bobcats. The new-look Toppers put on a confident display to maintain their undefeated record on the year, having already picked up after four wins in non-conference play.

Head Coach Ronald Hulewicz has assembled a strong squad for the 2021-2022 season that includes seven international athletes hailing from five different countries. “The atmosphere is definitely upbeat and energetic as this is a fun and self-sufficient group of young men,” Hulewicz said. “They understand the importance of hard work on the court and in the classroom, a very dedicated group of nine individuals.”

He admits though that their preparation hasn’t been all smooth sailing, with the COVID-19 pandemic still having its say. “The guys have really persevered through some challenging times,” Hulewicz said. “We have endured several quarantine periods where multiple players have been out of commission, but they continue to rise up.”

After being narrowly defeated by Charleston in last year’s MEC Tournament, WLU came into their opening matchup hungry to get back to conference play and to see if they could go a step further than last time. “We truly feel like our depth, fitness, and preparation have us ready to make some noise this upcoming season,” said Hulewicz. “As for goals, we are striving for a postseason and making NCAA Regionals.”

Hulewicz’s Hilltoppers came straight out of the blocks and took a trio of doubles wins to give themselves a 1-0 lead. Isfandiyor Makhumudov and Nevio Dux took a 6-2 win at No.1 and Daisuke Aota and Derek Roehner battled hard to secure a 6-3 win at No.3. One of the most impressive performances of the day came at No.2 doubles, where German duo Gianluca Gerndt and Moritz Erpel completed a flawless 6-0 sweep, giving the home side momentum going into singles action.

Much like the Lady Toppers, WLU’s men’s squad won all six singles games and did so without dropping a single set. They never looked out of control as they cruised to six victories in straight sets. Erpel, Aota, Makhumudov, and Gerndt continued on from their impressive doubles performances, while Zarion Jones stepped up with a win at No.6. The pick of the performances came at No.5 as Freshman Dux completed a faultless 6-0 win to round off the win in his first MEC matchup for the Toppers.

“It feels good to start the conference with a 7-0 win,” Dux said. “I think we competed really well today. I am really proud of the team and how we pushed each other to wins at all positions.” The Swiss native is confident that the team can continue to improve but insists they won’t get carried too quickly. “We take it step by step, game by game, and see what the outcome is at the end of the season,” said Dux.

Both squads are back in action this Friday, March 4, when they travel to Institute, W.Va to take on West Virginia State University. Check out Hilltopper Sports for more information and a full schedule for both teams.