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IWU women continue long league win streak

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Indiana Wesleyan University's domination over the Crossroads League was put to the test Wednesday evening at the Jack Sutter Courts, and it teetered on the brink deep into the match.

Marian already had the doubles point after securing two of the three matches, and singles play was extremely tight with four of the six matches going to a third set. Yet, a senior Thewuni Devaraja and a freshman Ellie Snider won key points and lifted the Wildcats to a 5-2 victory, their 42nd in a row in Crossroads League play.

"Oh, I'm so glad we won," said Devaraja, a senior from Sri Lanka. "We're keeping the streak alive."

The men had a much easier time and shut out the Knights 7-0 to begin league play.

IWU has won a women's league championship 27 straight years, dating back to the Mid-Central Conference days, and Marian has been the Cats' biggest challenger of late. Yet, coach Eddy Shigley counted on the singles matches to put the Cats through once again, and they delivered.

"We were already down a point because we lost the doubles point," Shigley said. "Marian always does a terrific job with their doubles teams, and we're going to have to get better at doubles. When it came to singles we excel in singles and we're a better singles team and we proved that tonight.

"The poise of of some of our younger players to hang in there and get the win in three sets was huge," he continued.

Perhaps the most poised was freshman Ellie Snider, who just three months ago led Delta High School past Marion in the regionals. Snider overcame a first set 6-2 loss against Marian's Mary Mullaney to win 7-5, 6-2 at No. 6 singles and provide the match-clinching point in her fourth collegiate match.

"I had a lot of nerves the first few games, and once I got those out, I think I was able to focus more on my gameplan and go from there," Snider said. "I have big shoes to fill, and Marissa Kline was in my spot last year and did a phenomenal job. I'm hoping to step up and do as well as her."

Devaraja made it 3-1 IWU a few minutes earlier when she held on to defeat the Knights' Theodora Simeon 6-2, 7-6 at No. 4 singles, a prolonged match featuring many long volleys. Playing with a sore left shoulder that was bandaged, Devaraja led 5-2 in the second when Simeon rallied back and eventually forced a tiebreaker, which Devaraja won 7-2.

"I've had shoulder issues since my sophomore year," Devaraja said. "I need a cortisone shot every semester to play and it's playable, but it's kind of sore. (Simeon) played well and she played smart."

IWU also had singles wins from Maddie Bemisderfer at No. 2 singles 1-6, 6-2, 6-3; Lela Golz at No. 3 singles 6-0, 6-0, and Laura Moore at No. 5 singles 6-3, 4-6, 6-1.

No. 1 singles Lizzie Bauss, battling an illness, dropped her first Crossroads League match in four years. After Bauss won the first set 6-1, Marian's Maria Leuken came back to post 6-3, 6-2 wins for the match.

"It was a tough loss for her, but she's been really sick and not herself," Shigley said. "We'll get her healthy and she'll come back on a roll. She just ran out of energy."

The men were barely challenged and Shigley said everything is pointing to a historic season.

"This is probably the best men's team we've ever had," Shigley said. "We have eight all-state players on our team and thee internationals in the starting six. We have five all-state players not in the lineup on a regular basis, and that is an extreme luxury right there.

"We didn't lose a match all the way down the line," he added. "We're winning that four doubles and five doubles and that 7-8-9-10 singles (exhibition) matches and you see that depth and guys are having so much fun. This could be a really special year."