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Tigers split weekend MIAA matches

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The scores didn't tell the story.

The Fort Hays State University tennis team lost 7-2 to Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University, ranked No. 25 in NCAA Division II, on Friday at the Tiger courts. Then, the Tigers rebounded to defeat Lincoln (Mo.) University, 9-0, in constant wind gusts at home Saturday.

But coach Brian Flax was more pleased with the loss to the Bearcats, traditionally one of the MIAA'st top teams, rather than beating the Blue Tigers, perennially a weaker program. Fort Hays improved to 8-3, 2-1 MIAA.

"On Friday, we were very good," Flax said. "Southwest Baptist is No. 25 in the country and every bit of that, but we played the best match we have played to this point. The energy was there. We knew that it had to be, and we played at a very high level. They were just better than us."

Fort Hays' two wins came at No. 6 singles and No. 3 doubles because of forfeit. The Tigers won more than two games at just one spot. Senior Laura Johnson lost 6-2, 6-1 at No. 5 singles.

At No. 1 singles, FHSU sophomore Camille Caron-Bedard fell to Fanni Varga, ranked No. 30 in the country, 6-0, 6-2. SBU moved to 7-0, 2-0 MIAA.

"You are going to look at the scores and say, 'Oh, we didn't play very well,' " Flax said. "But the truth was that we played very well. A lot of tight games. They just seemed to have one more shot in them that we didn't have, but I was really proud of the way that they played."

"We came out intense like it is going to be in most of the conference matches. I was pleased with the way that we played," Flax added.

Versus Lincoln, the Tigers never dropped more than three games in any match and went 24-0 in the three doubles matches. Lincoln fell to 0-2, 0-2 MIAA.

"As Saturday goes, conditions were a little tough," Flax said. "Girls were having a tough time holding onto the racket, because their hands were so cold, but they came out and took care of business. ... I thought we were good. It's tough when the competition level wasn't quite there and with the cold and the wind. Were we are good as we were Friday? Not even close. We were just really solid today."

Sophomore Caitlyn Wark, a Colby graduate, sat out the singles portion against Lincoln. Wark did play in doubles and won at No. 2 doubles with Caron-Bedard. Wark is 9-4 in singles and 11-2 in doubles, all with Caron-Bedard.

"Both of them have big serves and Cait is really tough at the net as far as putting balls away and winning the point," Flax said. "They communicate well, I know they really like being each other's partner, so they have been great."

Freshman Sadie Lungren stepped in at No. 6 singles and Flax switched personnel around to replace Wark, normally at No. 3 singles. Flax believes Wark needs only a few days to recover.

"She has been battling a few injuries," Flax said. "I kind of left it up to her yesterday if even she was even going to play (Saturday)."

Earlier this spring, Wark collected MIAA Women's Tennis Athlete of the Week for going 2-0 in a dual win against Hastings. Last year, Wark won 33 matches, a school record for wins by a freshman.

Wark, Caron-Bedard, Johnson and sophomore Brittney Ricci are back after earning all-MIAA honors last spring from a season where the Tigers went 9-11, 3-4 MIAA.

"I was telling (Johnson) yesterday against Southwest Baptist, 'Don't measure how you are playing by what the scoreboard is looking like.' " Flax said. "I reminded her of the days where she was playing 1 and 2. Now, we have improved our team so much that she is playing 5."

Johnson is 9-4 in singles and she and senior Brianna Watkins are 12-1 in doubles, including a forfeit win against SBU. They have mainly played at No. 3 doubles.

"Laura and Bri, they use their experience," Flax said. "A couple of seniors, you don't see that many times, seniors playing No. 3, that tells you a little bit about the strength of our team. A lot of times they talk them through situations. They are really solid for us."