Bearcats win second straight championship, advance to NCAA
Bolstered by a well-balanced roster of lower and upperclassmen, Baruch dominated all competition. Junior Hayley Bester and senior captain Allie Jackson-Hing paced the team with eight wins in singles matches. They demolished the John Jay Bloodhounds 5-0 in the CUNYAC semifinals before facing the Lightning three days later.
On the other side, Lehman marched into the championship round on a 13-match win streak with Baruch accounting for its only loss of the season last September. The championship featured rematches across the docket, pitting Lehman’s Sacha Espiritu and Lizaveta Markouskaya against Jackson-Hing and star sophomore Isabel Arias.
Arias talked about being nervous during the match until her partner inadvertently knocked the ball into her head. The blow actually eased her tension and allowed the undefeated duo to cruise to an 8-4 victory. She credited Jackson-Hing for elevating her game and sharing words of wisdom to boost her confidence.
“Even if we’re losing or we’re tired, no matter what the circumstance you have to keep the energy up and make sure to motivate the team because without a united team or feeling a strong connection to each other we cannot succeed,” said Arias.
Jackson-Hing sits atop Baruch’s record list in both CUNYAC and overall singles competition. She battled in a fiercely contested singles match against Espiritu in the final round. The first set went the distance as the combatants held their ground. A tiebreaker ensued and again, neither side could edge its opponent. With the tiebreak held at 6-6, Jackson-Hing found another gear and willed herself to win the next two points and take the set 7-6. Brimming with confidence, Jackson-Hing followed that explosive effort with a relatively easier 6-2 second set to put Baruch one step closer to lifting the trophy.
In the final match of the night, Arias fell behind early in the contest. She staged a furious comeback to take the first set 6-4. Her momentum carried over into the second set as she assumed a 4-1 lead. Arias admits that she succumbed to the intensity of the moment and let Markouskaya sweep through the rest of the set 4-6.
The decisive final set reflected the contentious nature of the match. What kept Arias from digging herself into a deeper hole was the undying support from her family and friends.
The 2015 CUNYAC All-Star strictly adhered to coach Florin Giuglescu’s “play the court, don’t play the girl” mantra, a message for the players to focus on their strategy and be aggressive instead of reactive. The pressure compounded after every service point, culminating in a nine-hit rally for match point. Arias leapt into the air after Markouskaya’s strike landed out of bounds and embraced her teammates at midcourt.
Jackson-Hing received a bouquet, a medal and a watch for being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. She beamed from ear-to-ear as she presented each teammate with a medal to commemorate their success throughout the season.
The three-year captain led the Bearcats from a 6-8 record in 2014 to a back-to-back first place finish including clean sheets in conference play. A combination of swift feet and a sturdy racket made her a stabilizing force on the team for four years. Team chemistry is of utmost importance for the Bearcats and her presence will be missed next year.
The Lady Bearcats came up short in last season’s NCAA Tournament appearance, making an early exit in the first round following a 5-0 loss to The College of New Jersey. The big stage may have been overwhelming for the team, as they failed to win a single match in doubles play. This time around, Jackson-Hing and the team are playing with more experience and are primed to make a significant run come spring.
Baruch has three tune-up matches against Ramapo College, Rutgers University-Newark and York College in the spring before the first round of the NCAA tournament. Arias explained it is up to the girls to stay in shape during the winter months in preparation for strenuous four-hour practice sessions at sunrise nearly every day of the week. Furthermore, the team must be mentally prepared, understanding that it is fully capable of playing on the NCAA stage, as warranted by its spectacular season. Nevertheless, the team can only build off its NCAA appearance last season and no matter what the result, this season can be called a success.