‘Best chance’ to advance

Christin Newman (became the first College of Charleston women's tennis player in program history to be named Southern Conference Player of the Year as a senior. (photo provided).

Alice Keeney

The College of Charleston women’s tennis team has won five straight Southern Conference championships.

With this year’s SoCon title already in hand, the Cougars are in Lubbock, Texas, this weekend to take part in their fifth straight NCAA regional.

What has eluded the Cougars for the past four seasons has been a victory in the regionals. The Cougars, who are making their sixth NCAA regional appearance since 2003, are hoping to change that this afternoon when they step onto the courts at the Jones AT&T Stadium on the campus of Texas Tech.

In the past, the Cougars have been matched up against heavyweight programs — Florida, North Carolina, Clemson, Tennessee and Georgia — in the regionals. While Texas Tech (19-6) is ranked No. 17 nationally in the most recent Intercollegiate Tennis Association Team Rankings, the Red Raiders are the lowest ranked No. 1 seed in the 16 NCAA regionals, while the Cougars are the top-ranked fourth seed.

While Charleston coach Angelo Anastopoulo isn’t about to start the victory celebration just yet, he is cautiously optimistic about the Cougars’ chances against the Red Raiders.

“It’s really the first time the seeding committee has done it according to our rankings,” Anastopoulo said. “On paper, this is probably the best chance we’ve had in the last five years to finally advance out of the first round. Texas Tech is a very good team. In the past, we’ve gone up against some real powerhouse programs and, to be honest, we probably haven’t had a realistic chance of beating those teams. This time, I think everyone feels like we’ve got a legitimate shot of getting out of the first round.”

Christin Newman, the Cougars’ top-seeded player, couldn’t agree more.

“I think we have one of the strongest teams we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Newman said. “We’ve dealt with so much adversity all season long, and I think that has made us stronger. I think everyone believes we can do this.”

In 2010, the Cougars faced ninth-ranked Clemson and were ousted 4-0 in the opening round. A year ago, the Cougars traveled to No. 6 Georgia and were shut out again.

“In the past we’ve been one of the strongest fourth-seeds in the tournament, but we never get rewarded for it,” Newman said. “I think it’s because of where we’re located. We seem to always draw a top-10 program or a big-name program like Georgia or Clemson or Florida. Those teams play on a different level than we do.”

Another reason for the Cougars’ optimism is their record against the Big 12 over the past few years. The Cougars are 4-1 against Big 12 opponents, including a 4-3 win over Kansas in February.

“We’ve been pretty competitive against the Big 12,” Anastopoulo said. “We’ve had some success, so I don’t think the girls are going to be intimidated by playing against Texas Tech.”

The Cougars (20-8) have plenty of momentum, winning 13 of their last 14 matches, and nine straight heading into the regionals. Newman is 19-6 this season with an eight-match win streak.