Freshman Kristin Labeja returns a serve against Eastern Illinois during a weekend game. The Colonels defeated the Panthers and Cougars to remain undefeated in the OVC. (Sonya Johnson)

By Greg Adams

The Colonels’ women’s tennis team (11-6, 4-0 OVC) took the court last weekend hoping to remain perfect in conference play.

The Lady Colonels would have to defeat a solid Eastern Illinois team as well as an experienced squad in Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

The Lady Colonels proved they were more than up for the challenge, as they blanked both teams and were able to remain unbeaten in conference play.

Eastern Illinois (6-9, 2-3 OVC) rolled into Richmond hoping to be the first OVC opponent to knock off Eastern. Thanks to a strong overall performance in both doubles and singles, Eastern’s women were able to pull out a win.

After capturing the doubles point, Eastern used its momentum in singles.

No. 6 seeded Lady Colonel, Marcela Jimenez, was the first to capture a singles win. Her opponent, Kristen Laird, could find no answer for the freshman from Mexico. Jimenez would win, 6-0, 6-0.

No. 2 seed, Kristina Labeja, would give the Colonels a 3-0 lead by defeating Eastern Illinois’  Merritt Whitley in straight sets, 6-2, 6-1.

No. 4 seed for Eastern, Melissa Gerritsen would solidify the win for her team. Gerritsen beat her challenger Sephora Boulbahaiem 6-0, 6-4.

The other three Lady Colonels, Amandine Faouzi, Saioa Osco, and Milena Poffo, would end their matches in straight sets, giving Eastern a perfect 7-0 win over the Panthers of Eastern Illinois.

Afterward, Head Coach Rob Oertel said he was pleased with his team at this point in time.

“We’re doing very well,” Oertel said. “We have a very positive flow going right now.”

The next day the Colonels would use their “positive flow” to overcome another conference challenge as Southern Illinois University Edwardsville  (6-1, 1-5 OVC) would come in to town, looking to steal one from Eastern.

The Lady Colonels again took the doubles point for the match. The surge was led by the team of Faouzi and Jimenez, who defeated their opponents without dropping a single game.

The standout freshman and No. 1 seed Faouzi would then capture the first singles victory for the Lady Colonels. She defeated senior Carli Connors 6-2, 6-0 to give Eastern the early 2-0 lead.

No. 6 seed Carmen Rodriguez would follow up with a straight set victory of her own. Rodriguez outlasted the Cougars’ Joanna Corkern 6-4, 6-4.

No. 2 seeded Lady Colonel Kristina Labeja would capture the deciding win for Eastern by defeating fellow freshman Kali Donner. After a tight first set, Labeja would stand her ground and close the match in the second, 7-5, 6-4.

Having not lost an OVC dual match yet, Coach Oertel still had nothing but good things to say about his young group, mentioning freshman Gerritsen and sophomore Osco.

“The whole group’s just kind of feeding off of each other’s success,” Oertel said. “Melissa has won five in a row; Saioa Osco has won 11 of her last 12 matches.”

The Lady Colonels’ tennis team (12-6 5-0 OVC) remained undefeated in conference play Tuesday.

The team defeated in-state foe Morehead State (10-6 3-2 OVC), 7-0.

Eastern won five of the six singles matches in straight sets with solid play from freshman Jimenez, who dropped just one game.

Fellow freshmen Gerritsen and Labeja kept the Eagles at bay and won the doubles point, 8-6.

A LOOK AHEAD

The ladies will have a busy weekend, as they seek to continue a streak of excellence.

First, they will travel to Cape Girardeau to face Southeast Missouri.

Southeast (4-9, 1-4 OVC) will defend its court against the Lady Colonels, who are led by a solid group of juniors. The Redhawks will have to bring their best if they hope to end Eastern’s perfect record in the OVC.

The next day, the lady Colonels will head to Tennessee to battle University of Tennessee Martin.

The Skyhawks (6-8, 5-0 OVC) have been perfect on the season in conference play thanks to a 4-0 winning streak.

The Skyhawks lone senior, Jodie Tiley, will lead her team against the Lady Colonels.

Eastern takes the court at noon against Southeast Missouri Friday, April 6, to face the Skyhawks the next day.