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ECU tennis swings to historic streak

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Celia Ruiz swings during East Carolina women's tennis practice Wednesday.

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Friday, April 12, 2019

East Carolina’s women’s tennis team hasn’t lost since beginning its season with 7-0 defeats to N.C. State and North Carolina on Jan. 18 and Jan. 23, respectively, but how would the Pirates fare now in rematches against those high-level Atlantic Coast Conference clubs?

There is no easy answer, but ECU would be backed by the momentum of a 20-match win streak, its most wins in a season in school history and the longest winning streak ever by any Pirate team.

“I would say that if we played N.C. State again, it would be a lot closer, but who knows if we would win or not because it always depends on the day,” ECU’s Lisa Hofbauer said earlier this week.

Hofbauer pairs with Alisa Diercksen to form ECU’s No. 1 doubles tandem. Celia Ruiz has won 15 straight matches in singles for the Pirates, who will host Cincinnati today and Connecticut on Saturday to conclude their regular season.

The simple presence of Ruiz, who was injured for both ECU losses, might have helped East Carolina against the pair of talented ACC foes in January.

“It is a little different for us when Celia is in there,” coach Tom Morris said. “The N.C. State match was our first match and they had already played five matches and I don’t think we were ready for them, but they also are a great program and are ninth in the nation.”

Immediately following the Pirates’ only two losses was a key win for ECU against Tulane.

The Pirates beat the Green Wave, 4-1, in New Orleans on Feb. 8 and then stayed in town for a 4-2 victory over Memphis. East Carolina also has defeated Temple for a 3-0 mark against American Athletic Conference opponents, but the Pirates are still on track to be a major underdog next week at the AAC tournament in Florida.

This historic winning streak already has brought unprecedented attention to the Pirates and their players. That has included getting lauded by their professors and peers during the streak.

“It does (feel different) because we have won more, but I think mainly I just couldn’t ask for a better season to end my career here,” Ruiz said.

Hofbauer said the Tulane win was key for confidence.

“Last year we struggled so much against them and they beat us twice, and this year we didn’t know how it would go, but we knew then that this is going to be better,” she said.

Eight of the 10 Pirates are international, including Ruiz from Pontevedra, Spain, and fellow senior Annija Veinsteina from Riga, Latvia.

Morris’ first season leading the Pirates was 1998-99. He said associate head coach Kirstin Burgess is instrumental to the team’s success, and also that last season’s 17-9 record helped to build momentum for this team and its potential.

“I appreciate this from the girls’ standpoint because when you have goals that you set, you certainly don’t anticipate anything like that,” Morris said of 20 straight wins. “We wanted to keep competing at this level and nationally to improve and we’ve done that, probably moving up 15 to 20 spots ahead of where we were last year.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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