Reinaldo Llerena/ Staff Writer
The No. 44 FIU women’s tennis team fell short of winning the Conference USA championships from April 21-24 at Murfreesboro, Tenn.
The Panthers (17-3) lost to No. 45 Rice University in the championship match of the C-USA tournament, 4-1, on Sunday, April 24. The Owls’ win over the Panthers clinched the university’s fourth-consecutive conference title, a new conference record.
FIU fell behind early, dropping the doubles point.
Freshman Maryna Veksler and Junior Nina Nagode fell to Emily Smith and Katherine Ip, 7-5.
However, the Panthers evened up the doubles match when senior Carlotta Orlando and redshirt freshman Andrea Lazaro defeated Lindsey Hodge and Alison Ho, 6-3.
But, Rice would clinch the deciding doubles match when sophomore Nerma Caluk and senior Kaitlin Brozovich lost to Savannah Durkin and Solomiya Zinko, 6-3.
During the regular season, the Panthers were 3-2 when the team lost the doubles point and undefeated when the team won the first point.
Heading into the match, Lazaro was still undefeated in dual matches with a record of 17-0.
Although the Panthers are much stronger singles players than doubles players, the team dropped three out of the four completed singles matches to lose 4-1.
Orlando was the first Panther to go down. The senior, possibly playing in her final match of her college career, fell behind to Durkin in her first set. She could not recover from a first-set loss and lost to Durkin in straight sets, 3-6, 1-6.
Caluk was the next Panther to lose. The sophomore, like her senior teammate, lost to her opponent, Ho, in straight sets, 1-6, 4-6.
Veksler was the lone bright spot for the Panthers versus the Owls. The standout-freshman defeated Hodge, 6-3, 6-2, to give the Panthers its only point of the match. Veksler’s win in the match against the Owls was her 26th on the season.
Lazaro was handed her first loss in dual matches this season. The Spaniard dropped her match against Smith, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, despite having a one set lead on her opponent.
Lazaro’s first loss in dual matches clinched the match for Rice. The last time the Spaniard lost was back in October 2015.
When the Panthers defeated UT Arlington back in February, Veksler said head coach Katarina Petrovic’s goal for the team was to win the conference and make the NCAA tournament.
Although the Panthers fell short of the coach’s first goal, the team has a chance to make it into the NCAA tournament.
The Panthers will find out if they made the tournament on Wednesday, May 4, at 5 p.m.