Eastern New Mexico University senior Elyse Jacques hits a return against Central Oklahoma’s Julie Vo in their No. 1 singles match on Friday at Zia Tennis Complex. Vo won the match, but the Zias took the dual 5-4. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — After earning Lone Star Conference player of the week honors on Thursday, Eastern New Mexico University freshman Tracy Hughes had a chance to top it off in a tie-breaking match on Friday at Zia Tennis Complex — even if she wasn’t fully aware of it.
Hughes forced a deciding set by winning a tiebreaker, then pulled away for a 3-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-2 win over Central Oklahoma’s Dominika Kovacikova at No. 3 singles — the final match of the day — to give the Zias a 5-4 team victory over the Bronchos.
ENMU (3-3, 1-3 LSC) broke away from a pack of three winless teams at the bottom of the league standings, although coach Christine Blaeser wasn’t too happy with how they did it.
After all, the Bronchos (0-6, 0-5) have just five players on their roster, meaning they had to default to ENMU at No. 6 singles and No. 3 doubles.
“We won it, but I don’t want to win it by the skin of our teeth,” she said, “not unless we’re playing a higher-ranked team.
“We shouldn’t have gotten to that point. We were in the lead all the way in No. 2 doubles (with Hughes and junior Kristen VanWettering), and (Amy Cabato and Kovacikova) beat us at the end.”
Hughes, though, didn’t let it get to her. She said she suspected her match with Kovacikova, a freshman from Pretoria, South Africa, might decide the dual — she just wasn’t sure.
After dominating the second-set tiebreaker, Hughes ran out to a 3-0 lead in the third set before Kovacikova came back to win the next two games.
Then Hughes, who earned player of the week honors after leading the Zias to dual wins over Western New Mexico and Grand Canyon last week at Silver City, broke back against Kovacikova and regained control of the match.
“It was a real tough match,” said Hughes, who is from Midland, Texas. “It was one of the funnest matches I’ve played since I’ve been here. It was very competitive.”
Blaeser said she advised her to change strategy after dropping the first set.
“The other girl just liked the ball hit hard to her, and Tracy was just feeding her that first set,” Blaeser said. “I told her to mix it up and get some off-speed shots to her backhand, and she executed it very well.”
Hughes said she was confident she could bounce back after going down a set.
“I knew I could play her better,” Hughes said. “I became a little more consistent and took advantage of opportunities when I had to.”
Eastern’s only other on-court wins came from sophomore Cassidy Banks, a 6-2, 6-2 triumph over Sky Nelson at No. 5 singles, and seniors Elyse Jacques and Erica Kelly, who beat Julie Vo and Russian Dasha Titkina 8-4 at No. 1 doubles.
The Zias now have a long break in their schedule. They don’t play again until taking on LSC foes Midwestern State, Northeastern State and Southeastern Oklahoma April 7-8 at Wichita Falls, Texas.