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Tennis Heads to St. John's for BIG EAST Finale

April 10, 2014

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. - Despite a recent slide, it has been a spring of revival for a Seton Hall tennis team that will look to get back on track heading into the upcoming BIG EAST Championship when the Pirates travel to Queens to take on St. John's tomorrow in their final conference match of the season.

The Hall (10-8, 2-2) fell to Rutgers on Tuesday and has dropped its last three, but reached a milestone on March 23 with a 6-1 victory over Quinnipiac that pushed the team's win total to 10; its highest in seven years. Against the Red Storm (8-7, 2-0), Seton Hall will take aim at another benchmark as a win would hand their tri-state rivals their first loss in the series since the 2003-04 campaign.

A triumph at St. John's would add yet another feather in the caps of seniors Rocio Portela (Demetrio Vega Baja, Puerto Rico) and Chloe Sher (Tin Shui Wai, Hong Kong) who has  co-captains in 2013-14, have helped the squad nearly match the total of dual match wins from the prior two seasons combined. On Tuesday, the longtime doubles partners celebrated senior day with a the type of victory that has become routine over the last four years, downing Rutgers' top pair of Lindsey Kayati and Vanessa Petrini, 8-6.

Portela and Sher have now recorded a team-high 18 wins between fall and spring competitions and their 10 victories in first doubles this spring is tied for the lead in the conference.

A second doubles victory escaped The Hall on Tuesday however, swaying the early advantage in favor of the Scarlet Knights and continuing a theme that has been recurring throughout the present slide. Following a four-match unbeaten streak in which SHU captured the doubles point in each outing, Seton Hall tandems have gone just 3-6. Inconsistency has been the main culprit as in each match; Pirate pairs have triumphed at a different one of the three doubles spots, but have failed to follow it up with another.

Seton Hall has fared markedly better in singles competition as Tuesday's 6-1 setback was the first time since a loss to Princeton on February 28 that the team earned less than a split of the six individual matches that are featured in a typical head-to-head matchup.

Sophomore Alex Landert (Naples, Fla.) scored the Pirates' only point on Tuesday, overpowering Farris Cunningham at #6 with an impressive 6-0, 6-1 result that pulled the team to within 2-1 on the team scoreboard at that point in the match. Returning to full strength after missing an extended portion of the spring, Landert picked up her eighth singles win of the season and could prove to be a valuable asset in the second-half of the lineup during the stretch run.

In the previous two matches, a pair of hard-fought 4-3 defeats at the hands of Connecticut and Georgetown, The Hall recorded a total of six singles wins as the team received contributions from each slot in the lineup.

Against the Huskies, the middle positions excelled as Hannah Liljekvist (Djursholm, Sweden), Julia Keenan (Greenland, N.H.) and Madison Shoemaker (Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia) helped bring the match down to the wire with wins at #2, #4 and #5 respectively. The following outing, Liljekvist was at the center of a Seton Hall sweep of the top-three singles slots, supplementing wins at #1 and #3 by Sher and Portela with her seventh second singles triumph of the spring.

For the season, the Pirates boast at least a .500 winning percentage at five-of-six singles positions, highlighted by a 13-5 (.722) mark at the top spot where Sher has collected a conference-best 12 victories to this point.

Conversely, the Red Storm has struggled at the #1 position where a pair of transfers in senior Khrystyna Pavlyuk and junior Nastya Polyakova have combined to win just five of 15 matches. The inconsistency has carried over to the other end of the lineup as well where St. John's has posted a paltry 3-11 record but the squad has been boosted by its proficiency at the second and third positions.

When the teams last met at the 2013 BIG EAST Championship, Portela and Keenan claimed wins for The Hall at #2 and #3 respectively before the Red Storm ultimately bounced the Pirates with a 4-2 victory in the consolation bracket. New addition Anna Morozova has been a revelation for St. John's however, going 11-4 between the second and third slots. Morozova's impact has allowed seniors Diamond Adams and Yanita Arnaudova - who opposed Portela and Keenan at last year's conference championship - to slide down to the fourth and fifth slots where they have collected 12 total wins and are each unbeaten in their last four matches.

St. John's has just one loss on its ledger in five home appearances this season, falling to then #44 Wichita State on March 21, and defeated both Providence and Georgetown in its only previous BIG EAST action but Friday's showdown will provide an opportunity for the Pirates to rain on the Red Storm's parade and notch a statement win with the conference championship now just two weeks away.

Tomorrow's match will be played at the National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens; the home of the U.S. Open and the 2014 BIG EAST Championship. Start-time is set for Noon.