FORT WAYNE – On the final swing of her warm-ups, IPFW junior and No. 4 singles player Mila Shustova whiffed on an overhead, then bent over with disgust and probably a little embarrassment. She atoned for the miss later.
It was Shustova’s final point in a 6-3, 6-3 victory that gave the host Mastodons their match-clinching point in Friday’s 4-0 win over South Dakota in the semifinal round of the Summit League tournament.
The top-seeded and regular season champion Mastodons (22-7) will face No. 2 UMKC, a 5-1 winner over No. 3 South Dakota State in the 1 p.m. championship today at IPFW. The winner will advance to the NCAA tournament.
It marks the fourth consecutive year that IPFW has reached the tournament finals, and it has won two of the last three.
Last year was not one of those years.
Last year is history, IPFW coach Eric Burns said. The thing is, we’ve got such a new team that no one really remembers last year, with the exception of our two seniors (Anita Henestrosa and Caterina Kiefer) and (sophomore) Marcy Huck. They remember what a debacle it was – that our team unity wasn’t where it needed to be. So we made a real effort this year to bring it all together.
The Mastodons quickly gained the doubles point (one point is awarded for the best-of-three doubles matches), then went to work on singles. Henestrova, named the Summit League Player of the Year, won 6-1, 6-0 at No. 1 singles, Kiefer won 6-2, 6-3 at No. 2 singles, then Shustova clinched the team win with her No. 4 singles triumph.
Although last year might be history, according to Burns, the memory of the tournament championship match loss to Oral Roberts drives this year’s Mastodons.
I think we all learn from our experiences, and we grow from that, Henestrosa said. Now the team wants it more than ever, and we’re really prepared. We know how quickly it can turn around. We’re prepared for a good fight (today).
The IPFW men’s team (9-17) offered a good fight before bowing out in its 5-1 loss to top-seeded UMKC.
Even though the No. 3 team lost 8-3, the Mastodons appeared to be closing in on the doubles point. In a chase for eight points, the No. 1 team was up 6-3, and the No. 2 team was ahead 7-2. While the No. 2 team of Connor Andrews and Martin Muadi held on for a 9-7 win, UMKC’s No. 1 team rallied to win 9-8, in a tiebreak.
We had our chances and didn’t close anything out, IPFW assistant Brett Barnett said. That’s why our season’s over and they’re moving on.
UMKC will face IUPUI in the 10 a.m. championship match.