On Saturday afternoon, the No. 3 Kansas tennis team dueled against No. 2 Oklahoma State Cowgirls in a shootout for the chance to compete in the Big 12 title game against Texas. After a hard-fought match the Jayhawks came up victorious as they won 4-2 to advance to the Big 12 final.
Kansas coach Todd Chapman emphasized the crowd’s influence and how being at home affected the outcome of the match.
“The energy of the crowd was fantastic today, it was unbelievable,” Chapman said. “The energy is just getting bigger and bigger around this team, and I think when they show this kind of fight it’s hard not to get behind them.”
Beginning with doubles, the Jayhawks slugged it out with the Cowgirls in a match that delivered to everyone’s expectations. Firstly, senior Anastasia Rychagova and freshman Sonia Smagina dominated Katarina Stresnakova and Marina Guinart of Oklahoma State, 6-2. To clinch the doubles point, the duo of freshman Malkia Ngounoue and junior Maria Toran Ribes defeated Bunyawi Thamchaiwat and Tamara Arnold in a close match, 6-4, for the early 1-0 match lead.
Despite the momentum, the Cowgirls would not go down without a fight as they managed to close the lead and keep themselves in the match. Senior Janet Koch fell first to Lisa Marie Rioux, 6-4, 6-1, and Sonia Smagina was beaten, 6-2, 6-4, giving the Cowgirls a 2-1 lead over the Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks managed to fight back as senior Nina Khmelnitckaia defeated Sofia Blanco, 7-5, 6-2, to tie the match at 2-2. The highlight of the match was Rychagova, as she played an incredible match against Stresnakova and won, 6-3, 6-4, putting the Jayhawks up 3-2 and in position to win the match.
Out of all the players, an unexpected hero managed to win the match for the Jayhawks, Toran Ribes. While the excitement of all the other matches drew the attention of the crowds, Toran Ribes quietly went to work as her match went to a third set and she defeated Catherine Gulihur, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, clinching the match for the team and advancing to the Big 12 finals for the first time in coach Chapman’s career.
“It’s just awesome for these girls. I’m just happy for them to be in this situation,” Chapman said. “It can only make us better, whatever happens, because we haven’t been in this situation, so all we’re going to gain is experience and that hopefully prepares us for further down in the postseason.”
Moving forward, the Jayhawks will take on No. 1 University of Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 title game Sunday, April 21. Play is expected to begin at 4:00 p.m.