Buoyed by Alex Clark's return, Missouri tennis secures first SEC win of the year

Friday, April 11, 2014 | 10:12 p.m. CDT; updated 4:35 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 12, 2014

COLUMBIA — When a team is 6-19 and winless in Southeastern Conference play, it's hard to call any win against an SEC opponent predictable. But Missouri tennis coach Sasha Schmid said she just had a feeling.

"I told the team before today started, I said, 'I have a vision of how this is going to go,'" she said. "'I have a feeling that Alex is going to clinch it,' and she did. I just felt like it was going to be her today."

Schmid was referring to junior Alex Clark, and, sure enough, she clinched the Tigers' 4-2 win over Mississippi State. Seconds after her 6-4, 6-4 win at No. 5 singles, Clark raised her hands over her head in astonishment and dropped her racket before she was smothered with hugs from Schmid and the team.

Friday was Clark's third match of the season and her first at the new Mizzou Tennis Complex.

"I was so pumped" to play on the new courts, she said. "We are just so blessed."

Clark missed the first 24 matches of the season after her mother died from breast cancer in December. Coaches expected her to play in one of Missouri's top four spots this season.

"Fighting is so important, and I'm just happy that I could do that today," Clark said. "It feels pretty good. I'm happy. I'm excited. It's actually a little bit sad, but I'm just happy that I'm celebrating with my team."

She and Madison Rhyner fell 8-6 in doubles, and Missouri lost the doubles point. The first two doubles matches were split, with the Bulldogs winning No. 1 doubles 8-7 (4) and Missouri taking No. 3 doubles 8-0.

"The doubles could have been demoralizing for us," Schmid said. "Because, again, we put ourselves in a position (where) I thought we were playing better than they were, and then to lose it was tough."

But the Tigers bounced back in singles play. They won the first three singles points. Cassidy Spearman won the No. 6 match 6-3, 6-3, and Kelli Hine won the No. 2 match 6-3, 6-2. At No. 1 singles, Missouri's Cierra Gaytan-Leach upset No. 66-ranked Georgiana Patrasc 6-4, 6-4.

The No. 4 singles match was not completed, but Missouri's Madison Rhyner lost the first set and trailed the second set when the dual match finished. In other words, it was all in Clark's hands.

For Schmid, being on the winning side of a close match hadn't sunk in.

"I haven't really felt it this year at all," she said. "We've been searching for this all year."

But it didn't seem too hard for her to take it in as she ran with exuberance around the tennis complex, hugging everyone in reach.

"We won," she yelled. "We won, and Alex clinched it."

Supervising editor is Erik Hall.

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