Photo: Matea Roki led shorthanded Bethune-Cookman with a combined 23 wins this season
The 2001 edition of the Lady Wildcats pulled it off as they won their third consecutive title back in the day. This year’s team actually has a better recorded shorthanded (8-7) then when it had a full squad (1-3). Bethune-Cookman won its final three MEAC matches shorthanded, including a key 4-3 at North Carolina A&T and a 5-2 regular season finale against archrival Florida A&M.
First-year coach Val Villucci admits she’s never been through a season like this, but appreciates what the team has done.
“We have displayed incredible resiliency,” said Villucci, who started in January. “Every time you think this team is down, they step up. What we’ve done is not easy to do.”
Two of Bethune-Cookman’s losses were decided by one point and in each case, the Lady Wildcats split the doubles competition and took three of the five contested singles matches. However, Bethune-Cookman triumphed in five one-point matches, all but one decided in the final contest.
“We come up big on the big points,” Villucci said.
Senior Mina Matsuba, the program’s all-time victories leader, won two of those deciding points, while junior Matea Roki, who joined Matsuba as a first-team All-MEAC performer after leading the Lady Wildcats with a combined 23 victories, delivered the deciding point at North Carolina A&T.
“Mina is going to be in every match, and Matea is probably the most competitive player we have,” Villucci said. “She may she gets nervous, but she manages to fight through it.”
“My season started off rough and ended well. It’s been a much better year for me,” said Roki. “This year, I’ve been focusing and making my game work setting up my weapons -- my serve and my forehand. We only lost to South Carolina State in conference and were able to beat everyone else.”
Team captain Alejandra Vidal has won her last five singles matches and is 11-7 in doubles along with Roki. The Lady Wildcats’ youngest players -- sophomore Karen Romero and freshman Phatsimo are playing strong late in the season. Romero has won three of her last five singles matches while Ruele has won her last three doubles matches partnered with Matsuba.
“Alejandra is our grinder. She'll stay in every single point. She'll run through a fence to win a point,” Villucci said. “ She's able to come back and win points. Karen and Phatsimo have been playing their best tennis in the last few weeks.”
Bethune-Cookman is the No. 2 seed from the Southern Division. Hampton and South Carolina State are the two No. 1 seeds for the tournament that runs through Saturday.
Guest Post Written by Dan Ryan - Bethune-Cookman University