Gold Nuggets' season ends with semifinal loss to Milligan
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Just call it a pause in the recent success of the Xavier University of Louisiana women's tennis program.
Milligan defeated the Gold Nuggets 5-0 Saturday in the semifinals of an NAIA National Championship qualifying tournament. That ended Xavier's bid for a fourth consecutive appearance at next month's national tournament, and it ended the Nuggets' season at 4-18 — a sharp contrast to Coach Alan Green's first seven teams, which won nearly 70 percent of their dual matches.
"We'll be back," Green said. "Recruiting for next season is going well. We have some young talent coming back next season, and they're going to improve. I expect us to return to form."
Xavier dropped out of the top 25 on March 22 after 44 consecutive appearances dating to 2004, and the Nuggets won't appear the final top 25 for the first time since 2003. But Green said one important component never disappeared this season.
"Our women played hard this entire year," Green said. "I'm proud of each of them. The fight they showed will carry them in life, further than any amount of wins could ever do."
Milligan (12-6) swept the three doubles matches — the closest was Albany Kelly and Caitlin Conley's 8-6 victory over Carmen Nelson and Melissa DeLoach at the first flight — and the Buffaloes clinched when Halie Winfrey beat freshman walk-on Courtney Martin 6-2, 6-0 at No. 5 singles.
Two Xavier freshmen led their singles matches when the dual ended. Amber Brown led Kelly 6-4, 2-2 at No. 2, and Nicole DeLoach, Melissa's sister, led Celeste Carpenter 6-1, 4-3 at No. 4.
It was the final collegiate competition for Melissa DeLoach, a four-year letterwoman and this year's team MVP, and Ashley McGill. DeLoach trailed 6-4, 1-0 against Caitlin Conley at No. 3 singles when the dual ended. McGill and Martin lost 8-4 to Jessie Rose Remegi and JoLynne Heidt at No. 3 doubles, and Heidt beat McGill 6-1, 6-1 at No. 6 singles to give Milligan a 4-0 lead.
The Nuggets played the entire regular season with five players, resulting in automatic defaults at No. 3 doubles and No. 6 singles against opponents at full strength. The schedule was difficult too — half of the Nuggets' losses were to NCAA Division I opponents, and there were four more defeats against ranked NAIA opponents.
"We're not looking for any sympathy," Green said. "Like I said, our women battled all year. We hope to be much better on the court next season, and we'll try again to play as hard a schedule as we can. We'll look forward to those challenges."