PERKINSTON — The Mississippi Gulf Coast women's tennis team headed out to Waco, Texas, on Friday with a point to prove. The Lady Bulldogs are ranked 14th in the latest ITA rankings heading out to the NJCAA Division I Women's Tennis Tournament.
"We're the highest-ranked team in the state, and we're very upset we let the state and Region 23 championship slip through our fingers when we could have won it," Gulf Coast coach Gary Bourgeois said. "We're going out there with a chip on our shoulders, trying to come back as the top-ranked team in the state out there."
The tournament begins Monday and concludes Thursday, with 30 teams playing in three doubles brackets and six singles brackets. Losers of first-round matches drop into the consolation bracket, where Gulf Coast has had its most success.
Bianca Buie (So, Baia Mare, Romania/Gheorghe Sincai National High School) was half of the winning team at No. 1 doubles in the consolation bracket last year in Tucson, Ariz. She's ranked 30th in singles this year, looking to grab more points in No. 1 singles.
The Missouri-St. Louis signee was one of three Lady Bulldogs to claim state and region championships.
"I feel like I have nothing to lose," Buie said. "I have no nerves. I feel comfortable and I'm ready to play some good matches."
Margarita Lopareva (Fr, Moscow, Russia/School No. 1101) will be making her first appearance at the NJCAA Tournament. She's ranked 42nd in the country, and she won the No. 2 singles title at the state and region tournament.
It's an important week for her, too. There will be plenty of four-year schools scouting prospective talent.
"It's a great experience for me because nationals is another level," Lopareva said. "I want to show myself as a good player. Expectations are high, and we're going to do everything we can. We're going to put a lot of effort in."
Megan Bankston (Fr, Gulfport/Gulfport) won the No. 4 singles title at the MACJC/Region 23 Tourney.
"You really have to stay focused and not get intimated by the seeded players," she said. "You have to go out and play your game and try your best."
The atmosphere will be the biggest change for the Lady Bulldogs. The eight-team tournament that concluded the MACJC season is the biggest they've played in. Waco will have nearly four times as many competitors.
There are also many more international players. MACJC squads are limited to two out-of-state spots.
"For freshman going out there, it's a big stage," Bourgeois said. "We try to prepare them for what it's going to be like, but until they get out there and see the crowds and experience the noise, it takes them a while to settle down."
The tournament can be followed at https://tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=221933
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