COLUMBIA — For the first time in two years, the Missouri tennis team divided its players and competed in two tournaments in the same weekend.
The top four players in the Tigers’ lineup, senior Sofia Ayala, juniors Mallory Weber and Kaitlyn Ritchie and sophomore Jamie Mera, went to Norman, Okla., for the ITA Central Regional while the bottom half went to Lawrence, Kan., for the Jayhawk Invitational, this year’s ITA Optional.
The top half of the lineup performed as Missouri tennis coach Blake Starkey expected, but senior Kristen Bleakley, junior Maureen Modesto, sophomore Danielle Day and freshman Andrea Lewis dominated in Kansas, winning the A and B brackets in singles and the A bracket in doubles.
“We showed some good things with the upper group at regionals,” Starkey said. “But at the bottom part, which shows depth, we just could not have done any better.”
Starkey praised the players that went to Lawrence, but he also told his players to keep the performance in perspective. The first thing he did after the tournament was let his players know they still had to work hard to build on such a strong tournament showing.
“I want to be kind of cautious," Starkey said. "I think at some point we need to do more at the top of the lineup, but I think we showed some good things at this particular tournament.”
The highlight of the Kansas tournament was the A bracket championship match between Lewis and Bleakley, two newcomers to the Missouri program. Lewis defeated her former doubles partner from the previous fall in three sets.
“We knew we were going to win the A bracket," Starkey said. "We had two finalists. Andrea had a really good run and played well. So did Kristen.”
Bleakley and Day won the A bracket in doubles.
Starkey said he doesn’t like to get ahead of himself after a successful fall tournament because there are more challenges in the spring. Whenever he feels the urge to take it easy on his players, he remembers the 2003 season. Despite a strong showing at the fall regionals that included a singles finalist and a doubles champion, the Tigers had a disappointing spring season, going 14-7.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Starkey said. “For this tournament we did great. (In 2003) I sat there thinking, ‘We’re amazing.’ Well, we lost to everybody, 4-3, even though we had the talent. You don’t want to get too excited because it’s just one tournament.”
In Oklahoma, Weber advanced to the final 16 in her draw, losing to No. 2-seed Lutfiana Budiharto of Witchita State. Starkey said Weber had her chances but couldn’t capitalize and lost 7-6, 7-3. Ayala and Mera both lost in the round of 32.
The doubles team of Ayala and Ritchie advanced from the play-in match to the round of 64 before losing 8-3 to eventual tournament champions Ana-Maria Constantinescu and Teona Tsertsvadze of Oklahoma.
This was the final weekend of tournaments for the Tigers before the spring season starts in mid-January.