MELBOURNE, Fla. – The preseason conference standings played out just like the national rankings, as officials from the Sunshine State Conference announced on Friday the results of the Preseason Women’s Tennis Coaches Poll – listing third-ranked Nova Southeastern at No. 3 in the poll voted by coaches across the league, the Sharks garnering 63 points.
For the second year in a row, the Sharks list at third in the preseason standings. NSU is coming off a 13-1 finish in the shortened 2020 campaign, taking their only loss to No. 1 Barry in tight competition at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Division II Indoor Championships. In addition, the Sharks entered last season coming off the best season since 2007, matching the program wins record with a 22-5 mark in 2018-19 – retaining most of the players from that squad into 2021.
For the coaches poll in 2021, No. 1 and three-time defending National Champion Barry leads the league with 80 points and eight No. 1 votes, ahead of No. 2 Lynn with 74 points and two No. 1 votes. Behind NSU, No. 9 Saint Leo lists at fourth (59 points), No. 18 Florida Southern at fifth (48 points), then rounding out the standings with Tampa (37 points), Rollins (36 points), Embry-Riddle (24 points), Palm Beach Atlantic (20 points) and Eckerd (nine points).
“Number three in the country and third in our conference…I don’t think there’s any argument the Sunshine State Conference is the toughest conference in the nation,” Neagle noted. “We are Just excited to be able to compete again. It’s been a long time practicing against each other. We are truly just trying to get better each day and we are only focused on the next team – next up is Tampa!”
Though the Sharks were shorted nine regular-season matches last year by the COVID-19 shutdown, the body of work was impressive nonetheless. NSU opened on a nine-match win streak and shut out 9-of-14 opponents on the year. At the DII Indoor Championships, NSU finished third with the loss to Barry on the neutral court. In that tournament, NSU downed No. 3 Columbus State and No. 6 Saint Leo for a pair of the squad’s five nationally-ranked wins in 2020.
Although the Sharks lose a pair of strong players from a year ago heading into the fifth year under head coach Doug Neagle, they do retain the efforts of ITA All-Americans Natalie Espinal (singles and doubles) and Karolina Snita (singles) – with Espinal retaining her No. 4 ranking from last season. Espinal teamed with Sarah Wardenburg to earn the No. 1 national doubles ranking last year.
Espinal finished the season with a 7-2 record, including a 2-1 mark against ranked opposition – and went 8-1 in doubles play. A 2020 mid-year transfer, Snita reeled off an 11-0 record at No. 2 and No. 1 singles, including a 1-0 mark against nationally-ranked opponents and 2-0 versus regionally-ranked foes. With partner Diane Follin Arbelet, she as 9-2 in doubles. Not to be overlooked in her own right, Follin-Arbelet was 26-6 in the past two seasons, including a 7-0 mark last year. Senior Daniela Obando gets another shot at her final campaign, entering the season with a 77.1 win percentage, 35-10 singles record and 39-12 doubles mark and a No. 38 national ranking after a 6-2 mark a year ago. Boasting a deep roster, the Sharks will also see the return of junior Chantal Nosievici, who tied the program singles wins record in 2019 with a 21-3 record – sitting out last season due to injury. In addition, sophomore Celia Montero Estevan returns after a team-leading debut record of 12-1.
The Sharks will open up their season on Tuesday, March 2nd with a road match at Tampa. Their home opener is slated for March 13 against Rollins.