Kats BELIEVE, head to Southland Conference tournament for first time in four years

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In Rob Hubbard’s first year as head coach, the Sam Houston State tennis team is back in the Southland Conference tournament for the first time since 2013.

The eight-team tournament hosted by Lamar University will begin on Friday and run through April 30. SHSU is slotted as the seventh seed and will kick things off with a match against second-seeded Lamar on Friday at 10 a.m.

“We were picked to finish down toward the bottom of the barrel and not be a contender this year because we had the same team back from last year,” Hubbard said. “I think these girls just went about proving all that wrong.”

In their last eight games, the Bearkats are 5-3 and are entering the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the conference. SHSU finished the season with a 6-5 conference record, which are the most wins SHSU has seen in Southland play since 2010.

“It would be a great help to have the doubles [point] and then we’ll have six individuals out there in the singles so we’ll see where it goes,” Hubbard said. “If we play the way we finished the season, virtually everyone was playing pretty well, good things could happen.”

SHSU and LU already met once this season back on April 1 when the Kats went on the road and defeated LU for the first time in 10 years. Junior Fabienne Gettwart is set to play on court No. 1 for the Bearkats in the SLC tournament and will take on LU’s No. 1, senior Katya Lapayeva. Gettwart got the best of Lapayeva in their previous meeting notching a 6-4, 7-6 win.

“I know I’ve beaten her before,” Gettwart said. “But I can’t rely only on that factor. I have to go into the match like a blank page and say ‘okay, it’s a new game, a new day.’ You never know if she’ll have a good day or if I’ll have a bad day. I need to go in with the belief of not being too confident.”

Hubbard, along with assistant coaches Robin Hubbard and Patrick Horne, have adopted the word “believe” as the theme of the season. The Kats were tested with a tough non-conference schedule in mid-January where the team lost six consecutive matches. However, the tough competition paid off at the start of conference play when the Bearkats shocked the world and defeated Stephen F. Austin for the first time in six years.

The Bearkats now carry around a wooden orange carving of the word and it’s awarded to the MVP of every match. The sign will be in Beaumont with the team to remind them that anything is possible.

“They continue to amaze me and they believe in themselves now,” Hubbard said. “All along myself, Robin and Patrick have told them that we believe in you and on the road you have to believe in yourself or it doesn’t get done. We actually have a sign here that’s part of it. Robin found the sign, brought it home, painted it orange and it goes with them after each match.”

Injuries have plagued the Bearkats in the last several weeks. SHSU will compete in the SLC tournament without its captain sophomore Ema Barkovic due to a torn ACL. Gettwart and freshman Diane Friedrichs have both been dealing with stress fractures in the foot, but have been cleared to play in the tournament.

“We don’t have next man up so we had to deal with what we had when they went down,” Hubbard said. “When Fab [Gettwart] went down against Nicholls State it bothered us, but we kind of knew she was playing banged up. When Ema went down after two or three games, you could see everyone’s heart sink. That one was a punch in the stomach. That one took the wind out of us.”

Friedrichs is set to play her first match since March 4.

“I’m a bit nervous,” Friedrichs said. “I’m also very excited. I just want to go out there and play tennis. I have to focus on being calm on the court and I have to focus on my footwork and just fight till the end.”

The Bearkats will face LU in round one at the Beaumont Municipal Tennis Center at 10 a.m. on April 28. If the Kats win, the team will take on either third-seeded University of Central Arkansas or the sixth-seeded Northwestern State University on April 29. The SLC championship game will take place on April 30 at 2 p.m.