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Women's tennis team earns spot at nationals

The UNG women's tennis team defeated Columbus State to punch its ticket to the 16-team NCAA Division II championship in Altamonte Springs, Florida.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) women's tennis team is one step closer to a national title after a clutch performance in the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional at the UNG Tennis Complex at Yahoola Creek.

Ranked No. 3 in the country, the Nighthawks (23-1) defeated Peach Belt Conference rival No. 11 Columbus State in a 4-3 thriller May 11 to punch their ticket to the 16-team NCAA championship event. Nationals are set for May 20-24 at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs, Florida. 

UNG is the No. 3 seed at nationals and faces No. 14 Charleston (West Virginia) at 1 p.m. May 20 in its first match in Florida. 

The Nighthawks had a first-round bye before defeating the Cougars in NCAA Southeast Regional play.

"Making it to nationals is a very tough task. We never take it for granted. We spoke about the possibilities in the fall semester and what it would take to get there. This spring the confidence just built throughout the matches, and they just never lost it," UNG women's and men's tennis head coach Kent Norsworthy said. "Our players have something special. They want to win for each other. The group talked about it as if it was going to happen. And they made it happen. We aren't just happy to be there. This team wants more."

Singles wins by junior Angelina Linnikova, junior Ashley Moinard, senior Svetlana Teterina, and senior Valentina Ascarrunz powered the Nighthawks to the victory against Columbus State, the only team to beat UNG this season.

"The thing that makes us so hard to beat is the fact that we never give up. We all represent different parts of the world, but we all share in common that we are relentless and put our heart and souls into every point," Linnikova said. "If we show up and play the way I know we can, there's not another team out there that could come between us and that trophy."

UNG has now set a program record for victories with 23, topping the previous mark of 22 set by the 2019 team that reached the Elite Eight. A hunger remains to add more accomplishments.

"Although this season we have already broken records and are making history, we don't want to stop there," Moinard said. "We want to fight and do our best at the nationals because we feel that we have the team and the opportunity to do something special. We want to keep adding to this year's ring and make it as big as possible."

Norsworthy knows his group is ready for the big stage.

"This team is tough. We have a very veteran group with lots of leadership experience. I can't speak highly enough about the four seniors. Our team chemistry is amazing this year. That makes a team tough to beat," the coach said. "It helps to have been in so many different situations and dealt with adversity. They knew what to expect. Not much was new for them this season. They were able take experiences from the past and turn them into positives."

The No. 3 seed UNG men's tennis team defeated No. 6 Augusta University by a 4-0 score May 13 in the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional first round. Now, the Nighthawks face No. 2 seed Columbus State in Auburn, Alabama, at 1 p.m. May 14 with a spot in nationals on the line.

UNG (14-7), ranked No. 10 nationally, earned the doubles point against Augusta thanks to victories by the Joaquin Benoit/Robin Eldin and Giulio Sassi/Marcos Castellanos pairings, then had singles wins by Benoit, Sassi and Eldin.

The 16-team NCAA Division II men's tennis championship is set for May 21-25 at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs, Florida.