By RAMA PEROO/Cowley College
With freshman Arina Babenko and sophomore Mariia Koroleva capturing singles titles, the Cowley College women’s tennis team had its highest-ever national finish by placing second at the NJCAA Division I Women’s Tennis National Championships held in Tyler, TX. Hillsborough College (FL) finished three points better than Cowley (46-43) as they claimed the national title.
The teams entered the last day of the tournament in a tie for first place before the Hawks were able to prevail.
“The entire season was awesome,” Cowley head coach Manuel Raga said. “Ari (Raga) and I knew today was going to be a battle. Congratulations to Hillsborough; they were tough. We did everything we could. We have had a historic season, and I am so proud of this team.”
Babenko rallied from a first-set loss against Seward’s Carol Mora to win the title at No 2 singles in three sets (4-6, 6-3, 6-3).
“Arina found a way to keep fighting,” Raga said. “She is improving so fast and is one of the best players in the nation.”
Koroleva, who advanced to the semifinals as a freshman, defeated Tyler Junior College’s Natalia Mitcha 6-4, 7-6 in the title match at No. 5 singles. Tyler would go on to place third out of 29 teams with 38 points.
“Mariia took care of business and showed she was the best No. 5 junior college tennis player in the country,” Raga said.
However, Cowley would drop three other championship singles title matches, two to players from Hillsborough College, as the Hawks took home the team title.
Cowley’s doubles team of Babenko and sophomore Ntokozo Zungu faced Yoana Dudova and Alicia Gomez in the finals of No. 2 doubles. With the national title out of reach, Babenko and Zungu continued to give all they had before losing 6-4, 6-4, and finishing as the national runner-up.
Other national runners-up for the Lady Tigers were singles players Alexandra Melnikova, Isid Hernandez, and Camila Neyra.
The Lady Tiger tennis team’s previous best national finish was third place during the 2002 season.
“Arina and Alexandra will use this as motivation for next year,” Raga said. “We also have a strong group of girls coming into the program, so we hope to replicate what we did this year and go even farther and win this tournament.”
*No. 1 – Isid Hernandez/Alexandra Melnikova (CC) defeated Elena Baughman Saunders/Sakurako Suzuki (State College of Florida) 6-3, 6-1; lost to Yeva Kononovych/Sydney Stone (Tyler JC) 2-6, 1-6.
*No. 2 – Arina Babenko/Ntokozo Zungu (CC) defeated Azul Barrios/Luciana Braga (Barton) 6-2, 6-2; defeated Natalia Michta/Hrudaya Shah (Tyler JC) 6-1, 2-6, 6-4; lost to Yuana Dudova/Alicia Gomez (Hillsborough) 4-6, 4-6.
*No. 3 – Camila Neyra/Mariia Koroleva (CC) defeated Martina Paillet/Natalia Vergara (Wallace State) 6-1, 6-0; lost to Lilia Jerry/Patricia Principal (ABAC) 6-3, 2-6, 4-6.
*No. 1 – Melnikova (CC) defeated Larissa Correa (Collin College) 6-1, 6-3; defeated Sydney Stone (Tyler JC) 5-7, 6-0, 6-4; lost to Camille Belberka (Seward) 6-7, 3-6 in the title match.
*No. 2 – Babenko (CC) defeated Victoria Federova (Collin College) 6-1, 6-4; defeated Esmee Andresen (Hillsborough) 6-4, 6-4; defeated Carol Mora (SC) 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the title match.
*No. 3 – Hernandez (CC) defeated Ekaterina Orlova (Collin College) 6-4, 6-0; defeated Kanna Kobayakawa (St. Petersburg) 6-3, 6-3; lost to It Habekovic (Hillsborough) 7-6, 6-1, 6-0 in the title match.
*No. 4 – Zungu (CC) defeated Telma Lorenzo Herreros (Weatherford) 6-2, 6-1; lost to Yeva Kramarova (Tyler JC) 3-6, 6-2, 2-6.
*No. 5 – Koroleva (CC) defeated Elena Baughman Saunders (State College of Florida) 6-0, 6-0; defeated Kyoka Ueno (St. Petersburg) 6-0, 6-2; defeated Natalia Mitcha (Tyler JC) 6-4, 7-6 in the title match.
*No. 6 – Neyra (CC) defeated Margaryta Bugaienko (Collin College) 6-0, 6-2; defeated Luisa Renovales (Eastern Florida) 6-4, 6-4; lost to Paula Cabrer (Hillsborough) 2-6, 1-6 in the title match.