NEW ORLEANS — Southern won its fourth consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference women’s tennis title Sunday, but the school’s 12th championship occurred under the most adverse conditions.
With SWAC player of the year Demetria Woods sidelined with a non-tennis ailment, the top-seeded Jaguars faltered early against second-seeded Alcorn State in doubles. Southern had to win four of six singles matches to defend its title.
The decisive match at the City Park Tennis Center was played between Alcorn State’s Chan Rutherford and Southern’s Morgan Taylor, who until Woods’ emergency surgery late last week was relegated to doubles.
Taylor rebounded from losing a tiebreaker in the first set and suffering right leg cramps in the third to post a 6-7 (1), 6-4, 6-3 victory.
Her reward? The full onset of pain as her teammates rushed her on the court, where she survived the final 10 minutes of the No. 6 match.
“Best and the worst feeling,” Taylor said later.
Southern earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, set for May 16-27 in Urbana, Ill.
“I already knew they had it in them, but they’re young and still have a lot to learn,” said Woods, a senior who this season went 6-1 during two SWAC roundups. She watched nearby from a wheelchair.
“This was nerve-wrecking for me, sitting on the side. But it was a good experience — a life lesson for everyone.”
Always be ready. Taylor, a sophomore, made sure she was.
Earlier this season, she played in four matches as Southern’s No. 5 player, coach Jeffrey Conyers said. Taylor then lost her spot and didn’t play singles again until last Thursday at Louisiana-Monroe.
“I know she wanted to play singles this year,” said Conyers, who earned coach of the year honors. “She took the role of playing doubles. Didn’t fuss about it, at least not to me. (But) she was ready to step in for the championship.”
Southern’s Danielle Dixon, the SWAC freshman of the year, defeated Arielle Buchman 6-1, 6-3 in the No. 2 match. Lois Alexis beat Viktoria Kozachuk 6-4, 6-2 in the No. 3 match; in the No. 4 match, SU’s Laura Syori beat Kate Potapova 6-1, 6-0.
Alcorn State won the No. 1 match between Kersten Vanem and Gabrielle Moore 6-4, 6-2 and the No. 5 match as Merilin Tipp defeated Camara Davis 6-3, 6-2.
That left it up to Taylor, who earned MVP honors.
“I knew one way or another, I was playing in that match, whether I had a cramp in my leg or not,” she said. “I was not giving up. I came way too far, and I was way too close.”