Lions prepare to make noise in the conference tournament

Junior Ali Murad gets ready to hit the ball against Jacksonville State University March 30. The tennis teams start the Gulf South Conference April 17. The women face the University of Alabama-Huntsville in the first round and the men take on either Delta State University or UAH.

The Gulf South Conference tennis tournament is set as both the men’s and women’s tennis teams look to advance this weekend in Montgomery.

The women’s team locked up the No. 4 seed to play the University of Alabama-Huntsville, and the men’s team faces either UAH or Delta State University in the quarterfinals starting April 17.

“We’re just solely focused on playing Delta on the men’s side and UAH on the women’s right now,” said head coach Brice Bishop. “Our focus is 100 percent on taking care of theses first matches.”

Due to a match postponement, Valdosta State University and the University of West Alabama’s men’s teams face off April 16. If the Blazers win, they lock up the No. 2 seed and UNA will be the No. 3 seed. If the Tigers win, UNA will fall to the No. 4 seed and face UAH.

The women defeated UAH 5-2 April 3, and the men defeated UAH 5-4 April 3 and Delta State 6-3 March 7.

“We just need to play well this weekend and we’ll be fine in the tournament,” Bishop said. “In the men’s game against Delta, it came a week after we had all that ice on the ground. We were able to get a few practices in inside and they weren’t, so it gave us the advantage.”

Bishop said UNA and Delta State are different teams now.

“That was a long time ago now and Delta will be better, but we should be better too,” he said.

The men (12-5, 7-2) are on a six-game winning streak with the last loss at the hands of Valdosta State March 22.

“We are possibly peaking at the right time,” Bishop said. “We’re just finding ways to win close games this year, which wasn’t the case in the past. We’re learning how to win right now.”

Bishop said winning so many close matches this year is helping the team stay calm when the Lions fall behind an opponent.

“Nobody ever panics, and somebody always steps up and plays big when we need them to,” he said.

This year’s success starts at the top with senior Guillaume Dechoz, Bishop said.

Dechoz is ranked No. 45 nationally and No. 13 in the region. The France native is 10-5 in singles and 10-6 in doubles this season.

“Being ranked was one of my goals this season and is a great feeling to be recognized like that while representing the university,” Dechoz said. “Now I just need to get better and focus on our team.”

Bishop said it helps, too, when the team’s best player shows so much maturity and poise.

“He’s having a heck of a year so far,” Bishop said. “We’re playing three freshmen, too, so it makes it a lot easier when the older guys are doing it right.”

The men’s team has lost four straight games in the GSC tournament with its last appearance in the semifinals in 2010.

“The problems with the past couple of years is that we came into the tournament as a much lower seed,” Bishop said. “This year, that is not the case.”

The Lions are also ranked No. 38 in the nation and No. 7 in the region.

“We will have a chance to move up in the rankings this weekend,” Bishop said.

He said the team needs to move up to No. 6 in the region if the team wants to make the NCAA regional tournament, and the GSC tournament is a perfect opportunity to move up in the rankings.

“The depth of the team has helped us this year,” Bishop said. “This is the deepest team we’ve ever had.”

The women (9-7, 6-4), who fell to Mississippi College 6-3 April 12 in the last game of the regular season, attempt to brush off the loss and advance to the semifinals for the fourth straight season.

“The women’s team has been a season of inconsistency,” Bishop said. “We have to figure out how to be consistent. We have plenty of talent we just need to find more energy.”

Bishop said the youth of the team plays a big role in the Lions inconsistency.

“We have one senior and no juniors,” he said. “We’re playing eight freshmen and sophomores, which is a lot. And they’re still grasping the difficulty from the transition from high school.”

The lone senior is Natalia Barragan, who is the No. 3 seed in singles and carries a 10-3 record in singles and a 8-8 record in doubles.

The Lions defeated its first round match up (UAH) earlier in what was the team’s best match of the season, Bishop said.

“They probably don’t believe we had any inconsistency this year by the way we played that day,” he said. “I know when we get down there and see UAH on the other side we’ll have our tunnel vision on.”

This week’s weather could be an issue for the GSC tournament, Bishop said.

“It’s suppose to rain all week in Montgomery, so hopefully we can get the first round in,” he said.