Tech tennis teams bid for OVC titles this weekend in Paducah

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- – First-year Tennessee Tech tennis coach Dan Silverstein has high hopes for his women’s and men’s squads this weekend when the Golden Eagles travel to Paducah, Ky., to compete in the 2009 Ohio Valley Conference Championships.

An automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament goes to the winner of each tournament, which will take place Friday through Sunday at the Larry Heflin Tennis Center on the banks of the Ohio River.

The Tech women (7-9/6-3 OVC) finished the year tied for third in the OVC and are the fifth seed. They will open play Friday at 10 a.m. against fourth-seeded Jacksonville State, with the winner meeting No. 1 Eastern Kentucky Saturday at 10 a.m. The women’s championship is scheduled for Sunday at 10 a.m.

The Golden Eagle men (11-7/6-2 OVC), meanwhile, have earned the No. 3 seed in the six-team gathering, and will open play Friday at 2 p.m. against No. 6 Eastern Illinois. The winner faced No. 2 Jacksonville State Saturday at 2 p.m., with the men’s championship scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m.

A look at the women’s team:

“This has been a great season for our women’s team, and I applaud the girls for finishing third after barely making the tournament last year,” Silverstein said. “Considering the injuries we’ve had, this is a great accomplishment.”

The Tech women must put together a strong effort to advance, according to Silverstein.

“Jacksonville State will be a tough opening round opponent, but we feel like we match up pretty well,” he said. “The bottom line is that we have to go out there and compete, and I believe we have a chance. We need to have some girls step up and play at the top of their ability.

“The six ladies we have going to the conference tournament will represent Tennessee Tech with great pride and great effort,” he said. “We feel like we can compete well. They have shown commitment to our program, and the future looks like bright because of them.

Tech is led by sophomore Kelly Holtzhausen, who has posted a 14-1 dual match record this spring.

“Kelly has had just a tremendous season,” Silverstein said. “Certainly she is a Playaer of the Year candidate. From the first week of practice, I knew Kelly was special and she could be one of the top players in the OVC. We feel she can be a Top 100 player in the country. With the recruits we have coming in along with our returnees, she can lead us to a chance to win two OVC championships in the next two years.”

Two sophomores in the Tech lineup, Katie Barnhill at No. 2 and Diana Woodcock at No. 6, have battled injuries all year.

“We’ve been playing with two injured players all year,” Silverstein said. “Katie has been battling a knee and foot injury the past two months, playing through pain, and I really appreciate her efforts. She will help lead this team over the next two years.

“Diana is back in the lineup after working though a leg injury. She is ready to go for the conference tournament, and she will help us with our depth,” he said.

Also in the Tech lineup in Paducah will be senior Evgenia Yartzeva, and freshmen Laura Porras and Joanna Corkern.

A look at the men’s team:

The Tech men’s squad hopes to make its fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament in seven years.

“Our goal was to win the regular season and be the No. 1 seed,” Silverstein said. “We were just a few points away from achieving that, and every player on the team feels we have a good chance to win the conference tournament this weekend.

“Dean O’Brien and Justin Kirstein have led us all along with undefeated conference seasons, and they’ll lead us into Paducah,” Silverstein said.

Tech opens the event facing an Eastern Illinois team that the Golden Eagles defeated 7-0 in Cookeville on April 5.

“We played very well against them at home, but we know it will be a much tougher match at the OVC tournament,” he said. “Right now, that’s our only goal. We’re focusing on beating EIU so we can advance. That’s all we’ll focus on. We told our guys that to win the OVC and go to the NCAA, we need to focus on one point at a time.”

O’Brien, who is ranked 110th nationally, went 8-0 in conference play and 17-1 in dual matches this spring.

“ Dean has had a sensational year and we think he is a really strong candidate for Player of the Year,” Silverstein said. “He only lost one match, and that was to the 12th ranked player in the country. We believe he has already qualified for the NCAA singles championships at Texas A&M in May, and he will lead this team to being an NCAA Tournament participant.”

Kirstein has also gone undefeated against OVC foes with an 8-0 record, and finished the spring with a 14-4 dual match record.

“Justin is a strong candidate for Freshman of the Year in the league,” Silverstein said. “He has been dominant at the No. 4 position, and he’s a true competitor. That’s why we call him ‘The Bulldog,” because he just fights to the end.”

Oscar Pachon, another freshman, has also posted a 14-4 overall record this spring and went 7-1 in the OVC. Tech’s lineup will also include sophomores Josh Girling, James Crawford and Mario Gutierrez, and freshman Alex Chen.

“This week, we’ve concentrated on our serve and return game for doubles,” Silverstein said. “We believe that the doubles point is crucial, and can give us the added momentum heading into singles. Winning the doubles point coupled with our singles lineup, we feel we’ll be a tough team to beat.”