Republished from the Columbia Missourian
COLUMBIA — With her players surrounding her at center court, Missouri tennis coach Sasha Schmid let out a cheer.
“Historical!” she yelled.
The Missouri tennis team did something it had never done before on Wednesday by advancing in the Southeastern Conference tournament. Missouri beat Arkansas, 4-0.
The win was only Missouri’s second SEC victory of the season. The tournament is being hosted at the newly opened Mizzou Tennis Complex.
“We have a lot of things to celebrate about,” freshman Cassidy Spearman said.
Spearman was the first player to win a singles point, beating Arkansas’ Flavia Araujo 6-3, 6-1 in the No. 6 singles match. Missouri’s Madison Rhyner and Cierra Gaytan-Leach also won their singles matches, and Missouri won the doubles point.
The Tigers went 8-20 in the regular season. Missouri missed Elisha Gabb due to injury and Alex Clark for the majority of the season after the death of her mother.
“All along we’ve really felt like we had the team that could make history this year,” Schmid said. “But we didn’t have our two starters, and that was tough.”
Missouri went into the Arkansas match following a good run of form. The Tigers won three of their last four matches and tallied their first conference win of the year on April 11 against Mississippi State.
“(We) really feel like we haven’t gotten out of the season what we’ve put in,” Schmid said. “For us, to have such great momentum at the end of the season is really tremendous.”
Though the score didn’t show it, the match was close throughout. Spearman, for one, was happy to leave the court first.
“It was relieving to get my (singles) point done with,” she said. “I was up 5-0, getting a little shaky, like ‘OK, just close it out for the team,’ because getting a point on the board for the team allows the momentum to start rolling and start growing.”
Gaytan-Leach closed out the match in a battle of No. 1 singles players. She found success by approaching the net.
“I was coming in a lot in doubles, and so then when I got into singles, I already felt comfortable moving forward and setting up the point right,” she said.
The Tigers lost to the Razorbacks 4-3 on March 16. They thought they would face the Razorbacks in the first round for a few weeks, because of the way tournament seeds were aligning.
“I think we knew what to expect going into it,” Gaytan-Leach said.
Clark did not play in the April match and her presence has provided a big boost for the team.
“Since she’s come back, it’s been just incredible for us,” Schmid said.
Last season, Missouri lost in the first round to tournament host Mississippi State, 4-2. Missouri was seeded 13th in 2013 as well.
Missouri faces 5th seed Texas A&M (ranked 8th nationally) in the second round of the tournament on Thursday at 5 p.m. The Aggies beat the Tigers 4-0 in March.
Because of its regular season record, Missouri can only reach the NCAA Tournament by winning the SEC Tournament.
“We’re playing to live to see another day,” Schmid said. “So when you get in these positions … we’re just going to lay it all on the line.”