PADUCAH, Ky. – The University of Tennessee at Martin freshman Hitomi Naito highlights the list of Ohio Valley Conference tennis honors after being named the league’s Freshman of the Year and All-OVC first team selection as voted on by the league’s head tennis coaches, the OVC announced this evening. Joining Naito with All-OVC honors is senior Ivon Simic and freshman Burcu Tari with second team honors.
Moving up from No. 3 to 2 in singles as the season progressed, Naito posted a 15-3 record in singles and 10-7 mark in doubles. Against league competition, the Tokyo, Japan native went 10-0 in singles play and 5-4 in doubles while teaming with Katie McCall and Tari. While in the No. 3 slot in singles play, Naito posted a perfect 5-0 record. She continued her dominating play when competition increased, finishing 10-3 in the second slot. Naito finished the season on a 13 match winning streak. She becomes the third Skyhawk to earn Freshman of the Year honors and first since Jodie Tiley won the award in 2009.
A native of Lauterbach, Hesse, Germany, Simic notched her third consecutive All-OVC second team honor after competing against the league’s top competition at No. 1, posting a 7-11 record in singles and 11-6 in doubles competition. In conference play, Simic went 5-5 in singles play and 7-2 in double while teaming with Sarah Candeloro. For her career, Simic boasts a winning record against OVC foes in both singles (19-17, .528 winning percentage) and doubles (23-4, .852).
Joining Simic on the second team was Tari, a freshman hailing from Istanbul, Turkey. Tari was outstanding on the season, posting a 15-3 mark in singles along with 10-6 record in doubles play. She posted an 8-2 record in conference singles play while going 5-3 in doubles, pairing with Jessica Silva and Naito. She heads into the OVC Tournament on a six match winning streak.
“I am glad that the other coaches in the conference recognized that we had several of talented players on this year's team,” said UT Martin head coach Dennis Taylor. “Because of injuries, we did not finish among the top three teams and that is where most of the all-conference awards come from. Finishing fifth but still being honored with three All-OVC players, and the Freshman of the Year shows how much respect the other coaches had for our players. I could not be more proud of our players.”
Morehead State’s Briar Preston was tabbed the Player of the Year while Murray State’s Olga Elkin and Morehead State’s Kevin Fulton shared Coach of the Year honors.
In addition to Preston and Naito, the women’s All-OVC first team honorees include Eastern Kentucky junior Kristina Labeja (Riga, Lativa) and junior Amandine Faouzi (Mareil Sur Mauldre, France); Eastern Illinois senior Janelle Prisner (St. Johns, Mich.); Jacksonville State senior Raisa Guasti (Vitoria, Brazil); and Murray State junior Andrea Eskauriatza (Coatzacoalcos, Mexico).
Making up the second team are Murray State freshman Eleonore Tchakarova (Sofia, Bulgaria) and sophomore Megan Blue (Mississauga, Canada); Austin Peay junior Ornella Di Salvo (Argentina); Morehead State freshman Andrea LeBlanc (Mexico City, Mexico); and SIUE freshman Lexi Aranda (Longwood, Fla.).
The Skyhawk trio will look to enact revenge on a regular season loss when they pair off against No. 4 seed SIU Edwardsville in the opening road of the OVC Tournament on Thursday, April 17. Action from the Heflin Tennis Center in Paducah, Ky. is scheduled for 2 p.m.