Women’s tennis team brings win streak to AAC tournament

Senior Monet Stuckey-Willis will face Southern Methodist in the first round of the 2018 American Athletic Conference tournament on Wednesday in Dallas. | ALEX ST. CLAIR / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The Owls will leave for Dallas on Tuesday for the 2018 American Athletic Conference tournament from Wednesday to Saturday.

The opening round starts on Wednesday at 10 a.m. The top four seeds earn first-round byes and will not play until the quarterfinal round on Thursday.

The Owls will be a No. 12 seed in the conference tournament and face No. 5 Southern Methodist in the first round on the Mustangs’ home court at 1 p.m.

Southern Methodist (14-8, 3-4 The American) enters the tournament on a six-match winning streak. The streak includes victories against Tulane (12-10, 1-3 The American), East Carolina (17-8, 3-5 The American) and Houston (19-3, 2-2 The American).

Temple (10-7, 2-1 The American) closed the regular season with back-to-back wins this weekend. The Owls beat Binghamton University, 7-0, on Saturday. Then they won their fourth straight match on Sunday by beating Fairleigh Dickinson University, 7-0, at the Penn Tennis Center.

This season is the first that the team will have had an above .500 in conference play since 2012.

“I feel really confident,” senior Monet Stuckey-Willis said. “We have a really good team, and we have a lot of potential. It is just about everyone bringing their A-game.”

Temple hasn’t won the American Athletic Conference tournament since joining the conference in the 2013-14 season. The Owls only advanced past the first round in 2015 when they beat Cincinnati, 4-3, in Oklahoma.

The Owls dealt with injuries in Spring 2018 and may still face them during the tournament.

Freshman Oyku Boz was kept out of Temple’s matchup against Rider University on Wednesday with a knee injury. Boz also didn’t play this weekend. She underwent an MRI on Thursday, but the coaches are unsure of her status heading into the tournament, coach Steve Mauro said.

Plus, sophomore Kristina Titova is still recovering from a shoulder injury, she said. It wasn’t serious enough to keep her out of the past three matches, but it sidelined her for two others.

Another challenge for Temple is that the conference tournament will be held outside. The Owls competed indoors nearly all season and only recently have been able to practice and compete outside.

The team closed out the regular season with three matches in five days. Two of the matches were played outdoors.

“It is just a different game outside,” Mauro said. “I think right now it is more important to play matches than it is practice, just to get used to playing outside.”

Temperatures in Dallas are expected to reach 80 degrees on the first day of the tournament, according to the National Weather Service. Heat isn’t something the team is used to, but it is working to adapt.

“You just have to stay hydrated, because the heat will probably be your biggest competitor,” said Stuckey-Willis, who has competed in Dallas before. “Playing against the heat is just something we are not used to.”

The tournament is especially important to the team’s seniors, who are looking to make their final mark on the program.

The Owls held a senior day celebration on Sunday at the Penn Tennis Center before their match against Fairleigh Dickinson University to recognize Stuckey-Willis, Alina Abdurakhimova, Rimpledeep Kaur and Yana Khon.

Even with the challenges that the tournament will bring, the team is still eager to get out and compete for a conference title.

“I am so excited,” Stuckey-Willis said. “I just want to hurry up and play because I know we always bring our highest intensity into the tournament, so I am really excited for that.”

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