There was no need for drama at the McLeod Tennis Center on Sunday, but that was just fine with the Texas Tech women’s tennis team.
After a season full of heart-pounding comebacks and nail-biting moments, the regular-season finale against Iowa State served as a coronation, a Sunday stroll to the height of a new frontier.
The No. 19 Lady Raiders breezed past the Cyclones, 5-2, to claim the program’s first-ever Big 12 Conference title, another highlight of the best season in team history — by a long shot.
“It is just an incredible accomplishment those girls just performed,” Tech coach Todd Petty said, moments before being doused in a celebratory Gatorade bath. “I can’t be any prouder of them. This is all about them right now. They made the commitment and followed through on it, and they didn’t stop.”
Before this season, the best Tech had ever finished in the conference was fourth, and the Lady Raiders had never been to the NCAA tournament. Now, the team is the Big 12 Conference champion — it claimed the title outright hours after its own match when Texas was upset by Oklahoma State — and will make its first trip to the tournament, with a good chance to host the first and second rounds.
“That’s what’s so hard to grasp, that we’re the first ones to do this,” said junior Caroline Starck, who clinched the match for Tech when she wrapped up a 6-1, 6-2 victory against Meghan Cassens. “It’s something special that we’ll never forget, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Tech (18-4, 8-1) marched to the Big 12 title behind breakout performances all season from newcomers and veterans alike. Four different players — Nikki Sanders, Samantha Adams, Kenna Kilgo and Starck — have won at least 20 matches (a total that includes the individuals portion of the schedule in the fall), the first time the team has accomplished that feat since 1987.
Kilgo, a freshman from Waco who spurned offers from hometown Baylor and Texas A&M to play at Tech, won her 27th match on Sunday, the most for a freshman in school history.
“These past few years, these girls have been growing as a team,” Kilgo said. “I’m just lucky enough to come in and be a part of this.”
The Lady Raiders have also received a boost from Rashmi Teltumbde, a transfer from Virginia who has combined with junior Elizabeth Ullathorne to form the Big 12’s best doubles team.
Then there is Starck, the junior from tiny Williams Bay, Wisc., who has gone from part-time tennis player in high school to one of the most decorated players in Tech history.
“It means a lot to me that these girls have put in the time,” Petty said. “This is no fluke. They started this out two years ago when this group of juniors came in, and this was something they were going to accomplish. They followed through with that.”
The Big 12 title is the first for a Tech team since the women’s cross-country team captured a championship in 2010. The Lady Raiders have experienced unprecedented success under Petty, the fourth-year coach who passed on law school to take a graduate assistant job Midwestern State.
“I’m so proud of Coach Petty and (assistant coach Todd) Chapman,” Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said. “It shows that hard work, dedication and passion pays off, and there’s nothing better than seeing them experience that success.”
Petty said he knew the Lady Raiders could be in for a special season when they fought back from a 3-0 deficit against then-No. 23 Ole Miss. Then the big wins kept coming. Tech opened Big 12 play with its first win against Baylor since 2002, and on April 13 the Lady Raiders topped Texas A&M in thrilling fashion for the first time since 1987, breaking a 27-match losing streak to the Aggies.
Now, Tech will be the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tournament, which begins at 9 a.m. Friday in College Station, and the Lady Raiders are excited to see just how march further the season’s wild ride can carry them.
“This is just a building block for what else we can do,” Starck said. “We have a lot of the season left, and I think we’re going to accomplish some more firsts in Texas Tech history.”
NO. 19 TEXAS TECH 5, IOWA STATE 2
at McLeod Tennis Center
1. Samantha Adams/Kenna Kilgo (TT) def. MariaFernanda Macedo/Tessa Lang (ISU) 8-3
2. Nikki Sanders/Caroline Starck (TT) def. Simona Cacciuttolo/Marie Chartier (ISU) 8-3
3. Rashmi Teltumbde/Elizabeth Ullathorne (TT) def. Ksenia Pronina/Jenna Langhorst (ISU) 8-2
1. MariaFernanda Macedo (ISU) def. Elizabeth Ullathorne (TT) 6-4, 2-6, 1-0 (10-5)
2. Samantha Adams (TT) def. Ksenia Pronina (ISU) 6-2, 6-1
3. Simona Cacciuttolo (ISU) def. Rashmi Teltumbde (TT) 6-4, 6-2
4. Caroline Starck (TT) def. Meghan Cassens (ISU) 6-1, 6-2
5. Kenna Kilgo (TT) def. Jenna Langhorst (ISU) 6-2, 6-1
6. Nikki Sanders (TT) def. Marie Chartier (ISU) 6-4, 8-1