By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — WEST WINDSOR, N.J. — Niagara University hopes their men and women can both earn a trip to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tennis finals Sunday at Mercer County Park. First , they'll compete in semifinals today with the women facing Marist at 10 a.m. while the men will play against Fairfield beginning at 2 p.m.
It's already been a weekend of honors for Niagara, with the school collecting several honors at the MAAC's awards banquet held last night. Purple Eagles tennis coach Anthony Nguyen was named the MAAC Anaconda Sports Coach of the Year for both the men's and women's divisions.
Three male players received All-MAAC honors. Olivier Dufour-Coursol was named to the first team at No. 3 singles, while David Raymond and Lorenz Schwojer were named to the second-team in two and four singles, respectively. Grand Island resident Matt Mucci, Raymond, Schwojer, Michael Elortegui, Brandon Gallegos and Mathieu Lacasse were all named to the MAAC All-Academic Team.
In the women's division, six Purple Eagles won MAAC honors. Sarah Hellstern, Maria Ortiz and Iva Celan were all awarded first team honors in singles while Niagara Falls resident Jenna McCune, Hilary Hansen and Ashley Ta earned first team selections in doubles. McCune, Lancaster resident Rachel Zilka, Hansen and Ortiz were all named to the MAAC All-Academic Team.
The Purple Eagles are hopeful they'll soon accomplish equal greatness on the court, beginning with this weekend's conference tournament.
"We're happy to be in the tournament but at the same time we know, going through the season or even going through this weekend, we have much higher and much loftier goals than just making the tournament," Nguyen said.
Both squads are seeded third in the MAAC tournament. As the players see it, three is merely a number.
"I'd say the top four teams are all equal," said Hansen, a senior psychology major from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. "Any one of us could the (number) one team going in. It's going to be who wants it the most, and who can play with no fear."
The Purple Eagles bring into this weekend's championship tournament an internationally diverse roster. In addition to Western New York natives including McCune, Mucci, Zilka and Mark Mackowski (Tonawanda), the Purple Eagles men's and women's tennis squads have players hailing from Canada, Germany, Great Britain and Colombia.
Dufour-Coursol, a junior accounting major from Ile-Bizard, Quebec, is the leading player on the Niagara men's side. Heading into this weekend he has an overall record of 23-7 in singles play, including victories in nine of his last 10 matches and a two-match winning streak heading into this weekend. When teamed with Raymond, a sophomore and fellow Quebec native, the pair went 15-8 overall in doubles play.
Dufour-Coursol admitted feeling more comfortable when playing singles but values the importance of successful doubles play. He spoke of the important of the team concept in a sport better known for individual performances.
"It's hard when you first come into college, you don't feel the team spirit (because) you're so used to playing as individual," he said. "The coach, from the first day on, tells you it's a sports team. Every match you play, you play for your team and not for yourself."
When asked who else among the Purple Eagles could impress this weekend, Dufour-Coursol pointed to Schwojer, who hails from Germany.
"He's just a really good number four," he said of his teammate. "When he goes on the court we just can count on him to win every start."
Among the women? Hansen points to another German-born player in the Purple Eagles roster.
"Sarah Hellstern's had a pretty good season so far," Hansen said. "So has Iva Celan."
Hellstern and Celan, the latter of whom hails from California, have overall singles records of 16-3 and 15-6, respectively. When paired for doubles competition, the team of Hellstern and Celan have the second most wins on the Niagara women's roster with an overall record of 11-4. Hansen and Ortiz lead the Purple Eagles women with an overall doubles record of 15-4.