Clutch Play, Big Points Could Decide BIG EAST Tennis Tournaments

Xavier head coach Eric Toth

Xavier head coach Eric Toth

April 23, 2014

By Richard Finn
Special to BIGEAST.com

Championship Central: Women | Men

NEW YORK - The BIG EAST Men's and Women's Tennis Championships presented by New York Life will likely be decided by a handful of points, a few minutes of clutch play and even some luck this week at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

"Whoever is going to be holding the trophy on Sunday, it is going to be the team who played the big points better and was a little luckier. I truly believe that," said Xavier men's and women's coach Eric Toth, in his 17th season with the Musketeers.

"When there is not a lot separating two teams, these matches come down to about a 15-20 minute period on who is going to win," said Toth. "Basically it is who plays the big points better and who is going to be the most opportunistic team, who is going to compete in the tighter situations. Those teams seem to rise to the occasion in conference tournaments."

The women's tournament opens plays at the home of the U.S. Open with two first round matches on Thursday morning. No. 7 Creighton (11-8, 1-1) plays No. 10 Butler (4-16, 0-3) and No. 8 Providence (5-15, 1-5) meets No. 9 Villanova (5-16, 0-4). Both matches are scheduled for 10 a.m.

Quarterfinal play in both brackets begins Friday, with the women's matches at 9 and 11 a.m. and the men playing at 1 and 3 p.m. Both the men and women's championship matches are scheduled for Sunday.

The stakes are big. In addition to being crowned BIG EAST Champion, the winners will earn an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

League parity should mean wide-open tournaments and stiff competition from the very first point, predicts Toth.

"I don't think there will be an easy match. We will have a tough match right out of the gate," he said.

"Every match is going to be a dog fight," said Billy Paluch, the No. 1 Creighton player. "We are just going into it open-minded."

DePaul (19-3, 4-0 Big East), however, is a clear favorite in the women's tournament. The top-seeded Blue Demons are ranked No 40 in the latest national rankings. During the season DePaul put together a 16-match win streak and is coming into the tournament off a 7-0 blanking of Marquette.

"Most definitely they are the team to beat," said Toth of the Blue Demons. "They are the odds on favorite, for sure."

DePaul is scheduled to begin play on Friday against the winner of the Providence-Villanova match.

Marquette (12-10, 2-1) is seeded No. 2 and will play either Creighton or Butler in its first match also on Friday. Rounding out Friday's order of play - No. 4 St. John's (10-8, 4-0) vs. No. 5 Georgetown (10-10, 3-2) and No. 6 Seton Hall (11-9, 2-3) against No. 3 Xavier (17-5, 3-1).

The men's tournament lacks a powerhouse like the Blue Demons women.

"It's wide open," said Toth, whose Musketeers (13-10,2-2) are seeded No. 4 and open play against No. 5 Butler (10-9, 1-3). "I don't think there is a favorite on the men's side. It will truly come down who plays and competes the best.

"I think our men have a shot. If we play our A game we can beat anybody."

Local favorite St. John's, (13-7, 2-0) who will be playing on their home courts this week, grabbed the top seed. The Red Storm open against No. 8 Villanova (4-16, 0-1).

The Golden Eagles (15-8, 4-0) are seeded No. 2 and open versus No. 7 Creighton (10-8, 0-3) and No. 3 DePaul (9-13, 2-2) plays No. 6 Georgetown (8-12, 1-1) in the other quarterfinal pairings.

Nobody is giving the crowns to anybody quite yet.

"We will see how it shakes out. You've got to play everybody and beat everybody to win a championship," said Toth.

Regardless of the scores, all of the student-athletes who will be competing this week will be winners, according to Toth.

"What an opportunity to have playing at the Mecca of tennis in our country," he said.

"It is going to be a special weekend and a special event."

BIG EAST Notebook

- DePaul senior Kelsey Lawson closed out her regular season career with a 6-0, 6-7, 6-3 victory over Ali Dawson in the Blue Demons’ 7-0 win over Marquette. It was her 102nd career singles win, and tied her for second on the all-time school list for wins.

- Creighton senior Billy Paluch went 2-0 at No. 1 doubles with freshmen partner Jake Norman but the Bluejays dropped BIG EAST matches to Butler and Marquette. Paluch also added the team’s lone singles win against Butler at No. 1 with a 6-4, 7-5 victory against Pulok Bhattacharya.

- Sophomore Brandon Woods went 2-0 at No. 4 singles for the Butler Bulldogs as they split BIG EAST matches against Creighton (5-2) and Marquette (1-6). Woods won both matches in three sets.

- Marquette senior Dan Mamalat improved to 20-9 at No. 1 singles and tied for the school record in career singles wins with 88 with victories against Creighton and Butler. The Golden Eagles won both matches to extend their winning streak to 5 entering the BIG EAST championships this week.

- Georgetown senior co-captain Casey Distaso, junior Alex Tropiano, sophomore Daniel Khanin and freshman Jack Murphy all finished with at least 10 singles victories on the season after recording wins against Villanova.

- Georgetown seniors and doubles partners Kelly Comolli and Madeline Jaeger closed out their regular season careers by going 2-0 in singles and winning their doubles match in a tight 4-3 win over Villanova in a BIG EAST match. Both Comolli and Jaeger have 9 singles wins on the season.

- Seton Hall junior Madison Shoemaker scored her 11th dual match win of the year with an easy win at No. 5 singles as the Pirates snapped a four-match losing streak with a 7-0 blanking over Monmouth. Senior Rocio Portela and Chloe Sher raised their record to 12-4 at No. 1 doubles with an 8-0 win.

- Villanova freshman Linley Busby won 6-0,6-0 at No. 5 singles to highlight the Wildcats win over Chestnut Hill.