They may have been a late doubles pairing last season, but Fatima Bizhukova and Marta Bellucco have quickly become a force for the Wichita State women’s tennis team and just registered the program’s finest performance.
After picking up back-to-back wins over top-10 teams in the spring at the NCAA Championships, Bizhukova and Bellucco earned a No. 14 preseason ranking and backed it up by knocking off three straight ranked opponents en route to a semifinal run at the prestigious ITA All-American Championships last week.
“The All-Americans are basically one of the three biggest tournaments in collegiate tennis and that was by far the best result we’ve ever had, singles or doubles, in any of those three big events,” WSU women’s coach Colin Foster said. “It was no doubt the best result in program history and I’m happy and proud of those girls because they earned it and they played really well.”
Their run was in jeopardy during their first match, as Bizhukova and Bellucco fell behind 4-2 in an 8-game match to the 19th-ranked team in Gonzaga’s Sophie Whitle and Graciela Rosas. But the WSU duo recovered to win six straight games to close out the match.
They followed that up with their top win of the season, earning a break early in the match and holding on to win 8-5 over the fifth-ranked doubles team in Wake Forest’s Emma Davis and Chandler Carter. WSU followed by knocking off a USC team ranked No. 27 before falling to the Kansas pair of Nina Khmelnitckaia and Janet Koch in the semifinals.
“Neither (Bizhukova or Bellucco) have super overpowering serves, but they keep their serve percentage high,” Foster said. “In practice we work a lot on knowing where the other team’s offensive shots are going and those two are really good at anticipating. So another team might be really good at crashing the net, but they’re able to read that and neutralize it.”
It wasn’t until late last season when Foster decided to pair Bizhukova and Bellucco as WSU’s No. 1 doubles team. It didn’t take long for them to take off, as they finished with a 10-4 record with four wins over ranked opponents.
Their success at the All-American Championships earned them a berth to the ITA National Fall Championships in Surprise, Ariz. starting on Nov. 7.
“Chemistry is such a big part of doubles and they’re starting to really develop great chemistry,” Foster said. “You play enough matches and you start to really have that sixth sense of where each other is going and where each other’s strengths and weaknesses are. They know what to do and where to be on big points and that’s why you saw them win a lot of those deuce points and close sets.”
Baseball sets dates for Fall World Series: After playing its first fall games in more than two decades, the WSU baseball team will conclude its fall season this week with its annual Fall World Series.
The team will be evenly divided into two teams — Black and Yellow — and play a three-game series at Eck Stadium with each contest being nine innings. Game 1 is slated for 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, Game 2 is set for 6 p.m. Friday and Game 3 is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday.
WSU will host its “SCREAMmage” on Saturday afternoon. Kids are encouraged to wear costumes and come for trick-or-treating and games in the concourse starting at 12:30 p.m. Players will be in costume to play a brief game at 2 p.m., then kids will be allowed to run the bases and play games on the field afterward.
Cross country competes at Pre-Nationals: The WSU women’s cross country team had an impressive showing at the Pre-Nationals meet in Wisconsin on Saturday, finishing 19th overall out of 35 teams in the 6-kilometer Cardinal division.
WSU sophomore Winny Koskei showed she is an All-American contender with an 11th-place finish in 20:28, shattering her personal-best time. Rebekah Topham followed in 38th place in 21:00 with Yazmine Wright (21:57), Rita Schnacker (22:23), Winnie Kibet (22:25), Amber Reed (23:03), and Halle Johnson (24:50) rounding out WSU’s team.
The men’s team finished 30th in the 8-kilometer White division, although it did edge AAC foe Tulane in the team standings. Clayton Duchatschek ran a season-best time of 25:13 in 124th, followed by Zack Penrod (25:27), Pedro Montoya (25:54), Dray Carson (26:05), Alex Moen (26:17), and Josh Klein (26:46).
Now the Shockers will turn their attention to training for the AAC Championships in New Orleans on Thursday, Oct. 25.
Softball shuts out KU to conclude fall: The softball team punctuated a 6-1 fall season with a 7-0 shutout victory over Kansas on the Jayhawks’ home field on Thursday.
The Shockers belted three home runs, while freshman Erin McDonald, Caitlin Bingham, and Bailey Lange combined for the 10-inning shutout in the circle. Lange was also stellar at the plate, where she finished 3-for-4 with a home run, double, and three runs batted in.
WSU outscored opponents 92-16 in seven games with the lone setback coming in a 9-7 loss to Oklahoma State.