The University of Charleston and West Virginia State women’s tennis teams have performed some unprecedented feats this month.
The Yellow Jackets, who last year were the first Mountain East Conference team to make the Division II national tournament, are now the first MEC team to make it twice. They’re joined by the Golden Eagles, on their first trip to nationals, which makes it the first MEC two-fer in women’s tennis history.
Now UC and State will try for another unprecedented act — to advance in the national tournament.
Both take the courts at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs, Florida, at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Both have what those who seeded the tournament consider an uphill battle.
UC is the 16th of 16 seeds and will face top seed Barry, the two-time defending national champions. WVSU is the 13th seed and will face No. 4-seed Columbus State.
There’s really no film preparation to get ready for this tournament, so teams mostly fly in blind. It will be the first time Charleston and Barry get to see each other outside of a few minutes during Tuesday’s joint practice session and some highlights UC saw of Barry’s 2018 national championship win in Arizona.
It’s a little different for the Yellow Jackets. They and Columbus State have a common opponent in Wingate. Columbus State lost to Wingate 4-3 and West Virginia State lost to Wingate 6-1, though the Yellow Jackets won at No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles and went to a tiebreaker at No. 1 singles.
That, plus the familiarity of playing in last year’s national tournament, has State feeling good, said J.J. Casto, who is helping coach the women’s teamwith men’s coach Ryan Pulliam while coach John Simms continues recuperating from an extended hospital stay.
“The girls aren’t deer-in-the-headlights at all,” Casto said. “They’re comfortable with the situation. They were expecting the situation that they’re in. They’re doing well and they feel like they should be here.”
For the Golden Eagles, coach Shari Reed said there’s no reason for nerves. At the 16 seed, there’s nothing for Charleston to lose, so there’s no need to hold anything back.
“Everyone’s already counted us out and moved Barry into the next round,” Reed said. “You don’t even need billboard material when you’re playing the 1-seed. You don’t need anyone to tell you. They knew when we got the draw, it was going to be a tall task.”
Both State and UC will try to become the first team from Kanawha County to win a match at the national tournament – State fell 5-0 last year to Central Oklahoma in the round of 16 – and, with Bluefield State in the men’s national draw, West Virginia is well represented this week in Florida.
Tough as the quest ahead of them might be, all the Mountain State teams are happy to still be on that quest.
“The good news is we’re one of 16 still playing,” Reed said.