October 18, 2013

Women's Tennis Preview: Beacons and Panthers Battle For Playoff Spot Saturday

UMass Boston women's tennis enters Saturday's contest at Plymouth State University (2pm) on the verge of earning their first Little East Conference Tournament appearance since 2011.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: With one final day left in the Little East Conference regular season, two playoff spots are still up for grabs in the six-team tournament. UMass Boston and Plymouth State are just two of the four teams vying for those final spots, alongside Salem State University and the University of Southern Maine.

With a win, the Panthers (6-5, 3-4 Little East) would finish the season in fifth place in the conference and travel to Worcester State University in the Little East Conference quarterfinals. The Panthers could still qualify in the sixth spot with a loss, if both Salem State and Southern Maine lose their matches.

UMass Boston's (5-9, 2-5 Little East) scenarios are a bit trickier, as the Beacons need one of several situations to occur to get back into the LEC Tournament for the second time in five years. 

The Beacons can clinch a playoff spot with a 6-3 victory or better over the Panthers, regardless of the results from the Salem State vs. Bridgewater State University and University of Southern Maine vs. Worcester State University matches. 

Eric Berg's squad can also automatically qualify with a Southern Maine and Salem State loss.

If all three teams lose they will finish tied at 2-6 and have to go to the third tiebreaker (matches won against each other), since the three teams each finished 1-1 against each other. The third tiebreaker would see UMB and Salem State advance with nine points in the matches amongst the three teams and UMass Boston would earn the sixth and final spot thanks to a head-to-head win over the Vikings.

SCOUTING THE PANTHERS: Plymouth State enters Saturday's match riding a three-game losing streak, after an impressive 6-2 start to the year.

The Panthers have reached the Little East Conference tournament in four of the past five seasons, including earning a spot in the LEC Tournament Semifinals each of the past two seasons.

Tenth-year head coach Barbara Rawlsky-Willett has had to replace three of her four top singles players from last year and an All-Conference doubles pair at number one singles this season.

Sophomore Nitsa Ioannides, the team's lone returning All-Conference players, has stepped into the number one singles slot (4-4), while freshman Nikki Lund has been a strong competitor at third singles (5-3) and at number one doubles (6-2).

Lund sits second in the Little East Conference with two LEC Rookie of the Week Awards.

SCOUTING THE BEACONS: The Beacons will be looking for their third straight Little East win in a row Saturday, when they travel to Plymouth, N.H.

After an 0-5 start to the conference season, the Beacons have battled back with wins over Salem State University (6-3) and Western Connecticut State University (9-0).

Despite the slow start, the Beacons have been one of the most competitive sides in the Little East, earning multiple victories in every conference match and picking up the second most wins of any team this year against undefeated Bridgewater State and the number two team in the conference Rhode Island College.

Senior Anitra Kloczewiak (Newton, Mass.) and freshman Nuha Muntasser (Braintree, Mass.) have led the charge for the Beacons this year as the number and one two singles players on the team.

Kloczewiak leads the Beacons with her 20 total victories, one shy of the single-season program mark, and perfect 7-0 mark at number two singles in conference play. The senior co-captain is a shoo-in as a First Team All-Conference pick for the number two singles spot.

Muntasser is the leading candidate for Little East Conference Rookie of the Year after picking up her league-leading third Rookie of the Week Award Monday.

Her 16 wins this year are the 11th most in a single-season in Beacons history and her nine singles victories are tied for second in the conference at number one singles.

KEY TO THE MATCH: The results of doubles play could go a long way to indicate how the match will turn out. The Beacons are 5-1 this season when earning at least two doubles victories, contrasted with an 0-8 mark when they drop at least two doubles point.