‘We put our hearts out on the court’: Tennis falls short at Big 12 Championship

About to hit the ball, junior Maria Linares moves her tennis racket. Linares and sophomore Karin-Marion Job played against Iowa State in their first match of the day on Oct. 31, 2020. (Macey Franko | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State tennis team traveled to Waco, Texas, this week to compete in the Big 12 Championship.

The No. 8 seed Wildcats (7-11, 2-7 Big 12), faced off against in-state rivals No. 9 seed Kansas (7-12, 1-8 Big 12) in the first round to determine who would play against No. 1 Texas on Friday.

The day began with doubles play. Head coach Jordan Smith paired sophomore Karin-Marion Job with senior Lilla Barzo on court one, while sophomore Ioana Gheorghita and junior Maria Linares played together on court two. The final pairing for K-State was senior Margot Decker and junior Anna Turco playing on court three.

K-State thrived on courts one and two with both teams winning their matches 6-2. These wins gave the Wildcats an early lead and a huge amount of momentum heading into singles play.

“I’m really glad we won the doubles point,” Barzo said to K-State Athletics.

KU tied the match early on in singles play. Freshman Manami Ukita was promoted to court three after spending most of the season at the six spot, but she struggled against the Jayhawks’ Carmen Roxana Manu in a 6-0, 6-4 loss.

The rest of the day was a back-and-forth slugfest between the two teams. The remaining five matches went to five sets and both teams fought with everything they had.

K-State regained the lead on court five. After a strong first set, Barzo struggled in the second but managed to stay strong and pulled out a win over Tiffany Lagarde, 6-1, 0-6, 6-4.

“It’s hard to explain,” Barzo said to K-State Athletics. “I think everyone was fighting so hard in their third sets. I am super happy I won my match. But at the same time, I am sad because we were hoping to win. We have to be thinking about the team, not individually.”

Linares and KU’s Sonia Smagina split sets where each of them dominated. Smagina came out on top with a 1-6, 6-2, 6-4 win to tie the score at 2-2.

KU found its first lead of the day on court four after Gheorghita struggled to put away the Jayhawks’ Vasiliki Karvouni. Karvouni went on to win the match 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Turco played a vital part in the matchup as she secured a win on court six over Julia Deming. The 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 win tied the match at 3-3, leaving the decision on court one.

Court one saw the battle between K-State’s stalwart in Job and the ITA’s No. 73 ranked player, KU’s Malkia Ngounoue. Every set was a battle between the leaders of both teams. Ngounoue claimed the first set 7-6 but Job swung back with a 7-5 win in set two.

In the deciding set, Ngounoue took an early 3-0 lead but Job fought back to bring the set to 5-5. The last two games fell Ngounoue’s way and she claimed victory for KU in a 7-6, 5-7, 7-5 win.

“I think we did well,” Barzo said to K-State Athletics, playing in her last match for K-State. “I think we fought throughout the season. It was not the result we wanted at the end. We put our hearts out on the court. Nobody complained. In the future, I know this will be better for us. I love K-State. I don’t regret anything.”

The team finished with a 7-12 record and 2-7 record in Big 12 Conference play.