The 2018 Sam Houston women’s tennis campaign which closed Saturday with a semi-final performance at the Southland Conference post-season tournament represented a landmark year for the Bearkat program.
Posting a school record 14 victories and finishing third in the Southland race with an 8-3 league mark, the Sam Houston women roared into prominence in an improving NCAA Division I tennis conference. A closer look at the results shows just how far a program that finished 11th in the league in 2015 and 9th in 2016 has come in two years.
Two of Sam Houston’s three regular season league losses were tight 4-3 decisions at the hands a pair of foes that also placed among the Southland’s top four – regular season co-champions A&M-Corpus Christi and Northwestern State, the squad which tied with Sam Houston for third place.
Then, in Beaumont in post-season play, the Bearkats came the closest of any team to upsetting No. 1 seed McNeese. The Cowgirls earned the tournament championship and an NCAA national playoff berth with a 4-1 victory Sunday over the Demons. Each of McNeese’s singles wins came in straight sets.
Saturday, however, McNeese had to go three sets in five of the six singles versus Sam Houston in a grueling duel that lasted more than three hours. The only two-setter in the contest was a Bearkat victory at number two singles.
“The ladies left everything on the court,” Sam Houston second-year head coach Rob Hubbard said. “All year long these players have been such fighters. This is a special group. Their team spirit and chemistry has been amazing.”
That chemistry came from a blend of the leadership of four multi-year letter-winners with talented newcomers that included a sophomore transfer, two freshmen and three walk-ons. The mixture resulted in the Bearkats finishing among the Southland’s top three teams for only the third time since the league expanded to more than five teams in 1992. The semi-finals appearance Saturday marked the Kats’ fifth trip to the semis in the 24-year history of the tournament.
Four-year seniors Fabienne Gettwart and Mila Milanovic came to Sam Houston from Germany and Spain, respectively. Their freshman year in 2015 the team posted a 2-16 overall record. Three-year letter-winners Khee Yen Wee from Singapore and Carrie Casey from Franklin, Texas, joined the program in 2016, a team that improved to 7-13.
This year as seniors, the quartet led the squad that picked up eight more Southland Conference Commissioner’s Cup points for the Bearkat athletic program in the annual all-sports standings than the program produced three years earlier.
The 2018 squad demonstrated their improvement early in the season. Sam Houston’s victory over Abilene Christian was the program’s first versus the Wildcats since 1983. Non-conference wins over Lousiana Tech and UTSA were the first victories over those programs since 2000 and 2010, respectively.
One look at the Bearkat women’s tennis record book shows the impact of the 2018 senior class. All four multi-year seniors rank among the top 25 in all-time dual match singles and doubles victories. No past group of seniors can equal that mark.
Milanovic ranks second all-time with 67 singles victories and stands ninth in career doubles wins with 51 with all her partners. Gettwart, an All-Southland selection this year in both singles and doubles, ranks ninth in Bearkat tennis history with 57 career singles wins. Her 23 dual match victories at the number one position in the line-up is the second=best mark ever.
With 44 career singles victories and 32 doubles wins with all partners, Casey stands 14th and 24th all-time in the respective categories. Together as a doubles pairing, Casey and Milanovic rank No. 4 in career doubles wins in both overall competition and Southland Conference play. Wee, an all-league performer in singles as a junior and in doubles this spring, ranks 23rd in the Bearkat all-time singles standings. Gettwart and Wee stand 14th together in program doubles history.
Sophomore Lusine Chobanyan and freshman Sahaja Yamalapalli, the two new faces in the top six line-up this spring, showed there is plenty of fire-power returning for next season. Both were among the top vote getters in the balloting for Southland newcomer and freshman of the year, respectively. Chobanyan’s 17 dual match singles wins rank as the second highest season total in SHSU history. Both Yamalapalli and Chobanyan tied a school record as each posted a 10-1 Southland Conference won-loss mark in singles.
Also returning for next season are two-year letter-winner Ema Barkovic (a red-shirt in 2018) along with Roos Gerritsen and Wendy French who both saw doubles action as freshmen this spring. Freshman Ashni Hill and senior Clarissa Escamilla also contributed to the 2018 success as walk-ons. Hill returns next year as well.