Pioneers defeat Queens 5-2 in NCAA Tournament opener

Pioneers defeat Queens 5-2 in NCAA Tournament opener

COLUMBUS, Ga. --- The Tusculum women's tennis team defeated Queens University of Charlotte 5-2 in the opening round of the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Saturday morning at the John W. Walden Tennis Center.

The Pioneers (21-2), seeded fifth in the region and ranked 17th in the latest ITA Division II poll, advance to face top-seeded Columbus State in the second round Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. The fourth-seeded Royals (16-4), ranked 23rd in the ITA poll, had defeated the Pioneers in the South Atlantic Conference semifinals en route to winning the conference championship.

Tusculum's victory was its second in 10 all-time NCAA Tournament matches, and its first since a 5-0 victory over Wingate in the first round of the 2003 tournament. The Pioneers also improved to 4-2 against ranked opponents this season, and Tusculum's 21 victories are the second-most in a single season in program history, trailing the 22-3 record set by the 2014 squad.

The Pioneers jumped to a 3-0 lead in doubles, winning each match by an identical 8-4 score. The team of Annie McCullough and Caitlin McCullough gave the Pioneers their first point with a victory over Carlotta Nassi and Isabel Fornies at flight two, followed by Franziska Funke and Katarina Majorova defeating the 33rd-ranked team of Yana Fleyer and Sasha Davidzenka at flight one. The Pioneers earned the third point at flight three, where Amber Lackey and Brittani Brooks teamed to beat Caroline Nielsen and Hannah Lehfeldt.

In singles, Fleyer gave the Royals their first point as she defeated Funke 6-1, 6-1 at flight two, followed by Fornies who won 6-3, 6-3 at flight five over Africa Mota to pull Queens to within 3-2. Majorova brought the Pioneers within a point of victory with a 6-0, 7-5 win over Nassi at flight one, with each of the final three matches going to a third and deciding set.

Annie McCullough saved the Pioneers from dropping another point at flight three, as she won her second set in a tiebreaker over Davidzenka to force a third set. At flight four, Caitlin McCullough came from a set down to force a third against Nielsen, but it was Julia Lopez at flight six who sent the Pioneers to the next round as she won 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 against Lehfeldt to clinch the match.

Columbus State (22-2) went 9-0 in the Peach Belt Conference during the regular season and won three matches to capture the conference tournament championship. The Cougars' only losses came to Barry and Hawaii Pacific, currently the top two teams in the ITA Division II women's national rankings.