Chris Young continues talking to Lenka Stara and Alana Wolfberg between breaks Sunday afternoon, trying to keep their heads in the match.
Stara, Wolfberg, Ayumi Miyamoto and Dariya Detkovskaya each had their own “welcome to collegiate tennis” moments against Ohio State, but Young knew it was something the supremely talented freshman class would overcome soon.
Despite the freshmen’s struggles – Stara was the lone first-year player to win her singles match – the Cowgirls nearly pulled out a down-to-the-wire match anyway.
Oklahoma State lost to the Buckeyes 4-3 at the Stillwater Regional of the ITA Kickoff inside the Michael and Anne Greenwood Tennis Center.
“I think this is, not to be expected, but it is a normal part of the process when you have so many freshmen,” Cowgirl coach Young said. “When you look at our lineup today and three through six are freshmen getting their first taste of what an environment like this is all about and what a match like this is all about. You give Ohio State credit.
“They just went for their shots and they executed and competed really hard. They knew all that coming in. I think for several of our girls, it was a new experience for them and we just have to learn from it.”
Young was in between courts four and six most of the day, helping Wolfberg and Stara, respectively, as the duo – along with the rest of the Cowgirls – fell behind in a hole early with Ohio State winning the first set on all six courts.
It was a gut punch to the momentum Oklahoma State (5-1) had gained when it won a closely-contested doubles point. Lisa Marie Rioux and Miyamoto won their No. 1 doubles match against Isabelle Boulais and Kolie Allen, 6-1. In the No. 3 pairing, Cowgirls Catherin Gulihur and Wolfberg were swept by Kathleen Jones and Danielle Wolf, so all eyes came down to the No. 2 doubles match.
Oklahoma State’s Bunyawi Thamchaiwat and Stara won a 7-6 tiebreak against Irina Cantos Siemers and Shiori Fukuda to put the No. 10 Cowgirls ahead 1-0.
“I think we kind of relaxed a little bit after that doubles point instead of taking the momentum like we have done a few times this season and kind of run with it, but credit to Ohio State,” Young said. “They really fought back strong and played really good in the first set.”
While the air felt like it had been sucked out of the Greenwood Center, Oklahoma State started mounting a comeback in the second set. The fight of the Cowgirls was epitomized by Detkovskaya, who fell behind 5-0 in the first set on court five against Siemers, ranked No. 58 in the country.
However, the Kazakhstan product won three-straight games to go into the second set with momentum, ultimately forcing a third set after a 6-3 victory in the second.
Five Cowgirls – with the exception of Miyamoto, who was swept 6-2, 6-1 by Wolf on court three – pushed their matches into the third set, something Young was extremely proud of against the No. 25 Buckeyes.
“I really liked the character of our girls to take five matches and turn it around and come back to win the second set,” Young said. “I think it says a lot about the character of these girls. We were right there in some key moments and it gave us chances to win, because of the competitiveness that the girls had.”
For a while, as Rioux and Thamchaiwat did battle with the Buckeyes best on the top two courts, it felt like the Cowgirls might pull the wins out in the lower courts.
Wolfberg, Detkovskaya and Stara all had their opponents down in the third set, but only Stara was able to pull through with a 7-5 third-set victory over Mary Beth Hurley on court six.
Wolfberg, a native of Orlanda, Florida, was up 3-1 in the third set and had 40-15 leads in several games that could have ensured the wins but couldn’t hold on against No. 125 Kolie Allen. Young said winning those matches like that will come in time for the talented freshman.
“Sometimes as freshmen, they are waiting for the other player to make a mistake and can’t do that, especially against a good team,” Young said. “A lot of credit goes to the other girls. They stepped up and went for it and were willing to execute. Sometimes you don’t lose it, the other person wins it.”
Because of Stara’s victory, followed by a dominant showing from Thamchaiwat on court two with a 6-1 third set against Boulais, the match came down to court one and Rioux.
No. 17 Rioux was battling with fellow Japanese native Fukuda, ranked No. 11, in a match that had an extraordinary amount of volleys, with both players looking in midseason form.
Rioux, an Okinawa product, and Fukuda, who hails from Tokyo, had trained with each other in Japan and knew each other’s styles well. Fukuda just had the better games Sunday, winning 6-3 in the final set to give the Buckeyes (2-0) the win.
“It was just a game of inches today and credit them,” Young said. “They came up with the great shots. Two top-20 singles players battling it out. Those girls trained together in Japan. That made it even a little bit more of an intense battle. I told our girls we have to learn from this. If we have these big goals, you have to see that there is still more work to be done.”
It was disappointing to lose in that fashion, Young said, especially losing out on a chance to play more ranked teams in the national indoor championships in Chicago, Illinois, where Ohio State advances now. But, Young saw some positive things out of the match and is looking forward to getting back in action this weekend with matches against Arkansas on Friday and Tulsa on Saturday inside the Greenwood Center.
“I think we have built something around here that people are surprised when we don’t just sweep opponents and things don’t come so easy,” Young said. “To me, we have sustained a certain level of success for so long, because of the character of our kids. That is one thing that showed today is that they are great kids and continue to fight. That is what is going to continue carrying the program forward.”