SEMO tennis heads to NCAA tournament after historic season
The Southeast Missouri State University tennis team is making history after winning both the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) regular season and tournament championships. This is the first time in school history the Redhawks have achieved this feat, and they are now heading to the NCAA tournament.
SEMO has an impressive record of 17-2 overall, defeating Eastern Illinois 6-1 to clinch the regular season win. They then accomplished a clean sweep of the OVC by defeating SIU Edwardsville 4-2 in the conference tournament championship.
Junior Daniela Hlacikova was named the OVC Player of the Year, as well as First-Team All-OVC. Graduate student Romana Tarajova and senior Kseniya Shikanova were also named First-Team All-OVC. Additionally, senior Vivian Lai and graduate student Teona Velkoska were named Second-Team All-OVC.
Shikanova spoke about how memorable it is as a senior to win the OVC tournament for the second time in a row. The seniors have been a part of a number of historic achievements throughout their time at SEMO.
One particular thing that sets the team apart is that its entire roster is made up of international students who now call SEMO home. Most come from different countries and did not know one another prior to their arrival at SEMO.
Tarajova, who has played at SEMO for five years, said, “I think that one of the things that makes this team special is that we are all internationals. Everyone is from somewhere else, and even though we are so different, it really brings us together.”
Coming into this season, the Redhawks prioritized team chemistry and created a bond within the team.
“During the year, we really worked on getting to know each other closer, being one whole, one team. That’s what separates us from other teams. We really care for each other and support each other not only on the court, but also in life,” Shikanova said.
Meanwhile, after a successful season, Hlacikova has plans for the future, with goals to "just to do as much as I can for the team and be the best player I can be for my team."
Coach Mary Beth Gunn praised the team's efforts and said winning both championships was a great experience for the players.
“They are very close to each other, and they’re not just fighting for themselves to win, they’re fighting for each other as a team,” Gunn said.
She also mentioned how the team's experience, with several seniors playing in their third championship, would be a huge help in the NCAA tournament.
“We have already done this once, so it’s not new for us. We are just going to go there and be ready for anything and fight for every single ball and hopefully maybe even win the first round,” Tarajova said.
Regarding the NCAA tournament, Gunn spoke about their experience last year, saying, “I think we played Stanford well; we [won] a set on one of the courts. I think this year, our team can do a little more damage.”
While several key contributors will be graduating, the team has a bright future, signing three new players who have been preparing to join the team this coming fall.
If experience tells anything, record-setting Gunn will have next year’s team ready to compete for more championships.
But there is still more excitement to come this season.
The NCAA Selection Show took place Monday, May 1, at 5 p.m. and determined SEMO’s destination and competitor. The Redhawks (17-2) are headed to Knoxville to face No. 15 Tennessee (19-5) in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Tennis Championship.