CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As part of the Big South Conference’s 25th Anniversary celebration in 2008-09, which is presented by Royal Purple, the Conference is profiling each week the Top 25 “Best of the Best” moments in League history. This week’s feature is Winthrop’s Women’s Tennis Championship run from 2002-06.
A video vignette around the Lady Eagles’ championships from those seasons, featuring a retrospective from former All-Conference performer Judit Trunkos and head coach Cid Carvalho, can be viewed on the Big South’s website, www.BigSouthSports.com, under the 25th Anniversary Media Center banner. In addition, video vignettes around all the Top 25 “Best of the Best” moments are available for viewing online.
Winthrop’s Women’s Tennis team was already a five-time Big South championship program prior to 2002, having won three consecutive titles from 1994-96 and two crowns in 1999 and 2000. The 2000 squad was the first Big South women’s tennis team to advance to the NCAAs. But in 2002, the Lady Eagles began an amazing five-year run of League championships, NCAA Tournament appearances and winning streaks that has not been duplicated in Conference annals.
In 2002, Winthrop finished the Conference season with a perfect 7-0 record to earn the No. 1 seed in the Big South Tournament. In the quarterfinals, Winthrop knocked off No. 8 seed Liberty, 5-0. Singles players Jenny Andrade, Renata Caceres, Ana Maria Simanca and Natasha Lucki won in straight-sets. In the semifinals against No. 4 Charleston Southern, Winthrop took home the 4-0 win with straight-set wins from Renata Barreto, Andrade and Caceres, while the Lady Eagles’ doubles team of Andrade/Simanca and Barreto/Jacki Deason were also victorious.
Winthrop extended its record of Championship Match appearances with its seventh in 2002, and faced defending champion Coastal Carolina in the finals. The Chanticleers captured two of three matches for the doubles point to claim an early 1-0 lead. The Lady Eagles posted singles victories at No. 3 by Andrade and No. 4 by Caceres, while the Chanticleers received a win at No. 2 to bring about a 2-2 deadlock.
A victory at No. 1 singles lifted Coastal Carolina to a 3-2 advantage. The Lady Eagles rallied back with a win by Lucki at No. 6 to tie up the match, and a three-set victory by Simanca at No. 5 gave Winthrop its third Big South women’s tennis title in four years and sixth overall. It was also Winthrop’s 10th-straight win over a Conference opponent and the team’s second berth in the NCAA Tournament. That season, Trunkos, Barreto and Andrade earned All-Conference honors for their singles play, while Trunkos, Caceres, Simanca and Andrade earned All-Big South accolades in doubles. As a team, Winthrop received a No. 12 ranking in the NCAA Southeast Region.
The 2003 squad returned four of the top six players from the 2002 championship team, but had to replace the graduated Trunkos at No. 1 singles, as well as Deason. However, the four returnees were an impressive trio of sophomores – Andrade, Simanca and Caceres, and junior captain Barreto. Andrade was the Big South’s Rookie of the Year in 2002.
For the second-straight year, Winthrop went through the Conference season with a perfect 7-0 record and finished the regular-season with a 16-1 overall mark. The No. 1 seeded Lady Eagles again faced Liberty in the Big South Tournament quarterfinals, and again defeated the Flames by a score of 5-0. In the semifinals, Winthrop handed No. 4 seed Elon a 4-0 loss, with Andrade, freshman Paula Takahaski and Simanca posting victories to lead the shutout. It was on to the finals, and a rematch of the 2002 championship against Coastal Carolina.
The Lady Eagles prevailed, 4-2. Simanca’s 7-5, 7-6 decision at No. 4 singles clinched the victory. Caceres and Danielle Moita also posted singles wins to help lift the Eagles over the Chanticleers. The title marked Winthrop’s seventh women’s tennis crown in 10 years, as well as its 20th consecutive victory against a League opponent. The Lady Eagles later fell in the NCAA Tournament to Duke. All-Conference honors were bestowed upon Andrade, Barreto and Takahaski for singles competition, while Andrade, Simanca, Barreto and Caceres were honored for doubles play.
Picked to win it all again in 2004, Winthrop moved into its new tennis complex in the spring and would have a chance to defend its title on its home court, as the new facility would host the Big South Championships that April. The Lady Eagles again had no trouble with its Conference counterparts, posting a 6-0 League record to clinch the regular-season championship. Against No. 8 seed Charleston Southern in the tournament, Winthrop’s No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 singles players each posted straight-set wins, and two doubles victories gave the Lady Eagles the 4-0 win. After a 6-1 victory over No. 4 seed Birmingham-Southern in the semifinals, the Lady Eagles again faced their nemesis from the past two years – Coastal Carolina – for the championship.
In the 2004 championship, Takahashi’s three-set victory clinched the title for Winthrop as she won her No. 2 singles match, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0. Ana Paula Novaes and Caceres both won their singles matches. In the doubles, Takahashi and Caceres won 8-3 at No. 2. After Coastal Carolina took the No. 1 doubles match 8-5, the deciding match was at No. 3, as Moita and Andrade fought back from a 4-1 deficit to win 9-7, giving the doubles point to Winthrop. The Lady Eagles’ 4-1 victory gave them their third straight championship, and increased their winning streak against Conference opponents to 29. Winthrop dominated the All-Conference team, as Moita, Takahashi, Novaes and Barreto were voted to the singles team, while Caceres, Takahashi, Barreto and Novaes were honored for doubles.
In addition to 2004’s on court success, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) named the Lady Eagles to its All-Academic Team, while Barreto, Caceres, Moita, Simanca and Takahaski were recognized as outstanding Scholar-Athletes by the organization.
The 2005 Winthrop women’s tennis squad received early praise before the spring season began. The team was ranked No. 75 nationally in the ITA rankings in mid-January, and again topped the Big South preseason poll as the favorite to win the championship. On April 13, 2005, the Lady Eagles finished the Conference season undefeated for the fourth consecutive year with a 7-0 mark. With the top seed, Winthrop eliminated No. 8 seed Liberty and No. 5 seed High Point with identical 4-0 wins.
Championship day would be the same as the three previous years – Winthrop vs. Coastal Carolina. In doubles action, the Chanticleers pulled out a win in the No. 1 match, but the Lady Eagles fought back and won the second and third matches to win the valuable doubles points. Winthrop went into singles action needing just three more victories to close the dual match. Moita quickly recorded another point for Winthrop with a win at the No. 3 position. Simanca gave the Lady Eagles the third point as she picked up a win at No. 6. The final victory came from Takahaski at No. 4, which gave Winthrop its fourth consecutive Big South women’s tennis championship – the first four-peat in Conference history. The Lady Eagles captured their ninth League crown – all under head coach Cid Carvalho, and increased their undefeated streak against Big South teams to 39. Winthrop finished the 2005 season with a school-record 21 victories, and Andrade, Novaes, Moita and Simanca all received All-Conference honors.
Despite losing Andrade, Moita and Simanca to graduation, the 2006 Lady Eagles were again picked as the League’s preseason favorite. For the third-straight year, Winthrop opened the season with a national ranking, as the 2006 squad was No. 71 in the ITA rankings. And for the fifth consecutive year, the Lady Eagles went unscathed in Conference action with a 7-0 mark. Behind Novaes – the Big South Player of the Year, Winthrop downed UNC Asheville in the quarterfinals and Birmingham-Southern in the semifinals – setting up a another championship final against Coastal Carolina.
In the championship match, the Chanticleers grabbed the No. 2 doubles point to jump out to the early 1-0 lead. Coastal Carolina won at No. 3 doubles as well, but the Lady Eagles came back to win at No. 1 doubles with Takahaski and Novaes picking up the victory. In singles action, Winthrop battled back to win four matches. Novaes won in straight-sets at No. 1, as did Big South Freshman of the Year Patricia Coimbra at No. 2. Yolanda Araujo claimed the No. 3 flight with a 6-3, 6-7 (10-2), 6-2 victory and Takahashi won at No. 4 with scores of 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 to give the Lady Eagles the 4-2 team victory and League record fifth consecutive championship. Winthrop’s streak against Conference opponents stretched to 49 consecutive victories (34 regular-season matches and 15 tournament contests).
Winthrop’s streaks would come to an end in 2007. With only three returning players and plenty of new faces, the Lady Eagles were still picked to win championship No. 6. With Novaes and Coimbra back in the fold, it was not a stretch for the youthful yet dangerous squad. Playing a tough non-Conference schedule helped the program, as the Lady Eagles recorded another perfect Conference season with a 7-0 record. Winthrop again marched through the Big South Tournament, advancing to the Championship match for a record 12th time.
As was the case in its five previous titles, the Lady Eagles had a date with Coastal Carolina for the Big South’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. But this year, the Chanticleers would prevail with a thrilling 4-3 victory in the title match, ending the Lady Eagles’ Big South championship streak at five, their NCAA Tournament run at five, and their consecutive victories over Conference opponents at 58. Earning All-Conference honors in 2007 were Coimbra, Novaes and Antonija Bagaric for singles, and Novaes and Paula Pereira for doubles.
Winthrop’s Women’s Tennis is one of the Top 25 “Best of the Best” moments in League history. The Conference is conducting an online fan poll to help determine the Top Moment in the first 25 years of the Big South Conference. Voting is open on www.BigSouthSports.com and continues through March 25. Fan voting will be combined with the 25th Anniversary Committee’s votes to come up with the official rank order of the “Best of the Best” moments. The countdown will be unveiled at the concluding 25th Anniversary banquet in May.
(Portions of this profile provided by Winthrop’s Media Relations Office)
Next week’s featured “Best of the Best” moment and vignette: 2007 Coastal Carolina Men’s Golf Team