CHARLESTON, S.C. - A tough test awaits Charleston Southern on Saturday morning as the Buccaneers close out the 2018 Big South Conference regular season at Winthrop. First serve in doubles play between the Bucs and the Eagles at the Rock Hill Tennis Center is set for 10 a.m.
The Bucs (10-5) bounced back from a tough two-match stretch with losses at Campbell and Liberty with wins over Radford and Emory to go over the double-digit wins mark for the seventh consecutive season. It was the ninth time CSU has eclipsed 10 wins in Head Coach Mike Baker's tenure and the Bucs will hope to ride the momentum against an Eagles team that was picked the Big South favorite.
Winthrop was a near-unanimous selection in the 2018 Big South preseason women's tennis poll after receiving eight of the nine first-place votes and 80 of the possible 81 points. The Eagles have won nine of the last 10 Big South championships including each of the past two to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
The Eagles' lone blemish during the stretch came with Charleston Southern's 2015 Big South Championship Tournament run. CSU topped Gardner-Webb, Liberty, and Coastal Carolina over the course of the three days at the Asheville Racquet Club on their way to claiming the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Bucs have either won outright or tied for three of the last four Big South regular-season titles, while the duo has faced off in the Tournament Championship match six times, including last season when the Eagles won 4-1 in Winston-Salem, N.C.
CSU has been battle-tested this season with early matches against ACC power Clemson and SEC foe South Carolina, along with a win over NCAA Division III no. 1 Emory. The Bucs have not seen their usual success in Big South play this year with midseason losses to Campbell and Liberty in their previous two conference matches leading up to Saturday's clash.
Sophie Cloessner leads the CSU lineup heading into the match and paces the Bucs with a team-high nine wins on the year. The senior from Wetzlar, Germany boasts an impressive 25-3 career record in conference play over her tenure with the Bucs.
Fellow senior Valeria Koussenkova, junior Filippa Ericson, and freshman Madalina Man all have recorded eight wins on the year as the Bucs once again reprise one of the deepest lineups in the conference in 2018. The Bucs also boast winning records on four singles courts in Big South play this season.
The doubles tandem of Cloessner and Man has also been among the conference's best this year as they are one of three groupings to play primarily on court no. 1 and boast double-digit wins. The duo is 10-5 overall on the year and 5-2 in conference play.
Koussenkova and Ericson are also among the top tandems with a 9-5 record in doubles play lining up primarily on court no. 2.
Winthrop enters the match with a conference-best 13-4 record on the season and 7-0 mark in Big South Conference play. The Eagles rattled off a seven-match winning streak early in the season and their only losses on the year have come against No. 1 North Carolina, No. 47 William & Mary, No. 27 Wake Forest, and VCU.
The Eagles enter the Saturday match on a three-match winning streak following wins over UNC Asheville (7-0), Campbell (6-1), and Liberty (4-3).
Individually, Lauren Proctor has been marked as one of the top players in the country with the junior sitting 27th in the ITA singles rankings entering the match. Proctor boasts a 13-2 overall record in singles play on the season and a five-match winning streak heading into the match against CSU.
Alisa Soloveva is 14-2 in singles play lining up primarily on court no. 2, while Aida Kelic (10-7) has split time on courts 4 and 5 for the Eagles.
The doubles tandem of Proctor and Megan Kauffman are an impressive 15-0 on the season while lining up on court no. 1. The duo is the only team in the conference to be ranked as they enter the weekend 50th in the country.. Soloveva and Tayla Van Eck are 10-5 on court no. 2.
The two teams split last season with CSU taking the regular season matchup in Charleston, 4-3, on April 8. Cloessner broke the 3-3 tie on court no. 2, rallying from a first set deficit after falling 6-1 to Alisa Soloveva in the opening frame. The then-junior rallied back with a 6-0, 6-2 win over the second and third sets to clinch the match for the Bucs.
Winthrop rebounded in the conference championship match with the Eagles taking the 4-1 win at the Wake Forest Indoor Complex. Winthrop took the doubles point with wins on courts no. 1 and 2, and then recorded singles wins on courts 1, 4, and 3, to take their 19th Big South Conference Championship title to avenge their lone conference loss of the season.