Packer leads newcomers, as LSUA aims for another tournament berth

Niamh Packer, the captain, is the lone senior and aims to lead the Generals to another...
Niamh Packer, the captain, is the lone senior and aims to lead the Generals to another conference title and berth in the NAIA Tournament.(LSUA Sports Information)
Published: Feb. 20, 2021 at 1:04 PM CST
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (LSUA) - Senior Niamh Packer leads an LSUA tennis team with five newcomers into the season, as it tries to deliver another conference championship and reach another NAIA Tournament berth. LSUA, which starts its season ranked No. 8, begins its season Sunday afternoon on the road against Southeastern Louisiana.

The contest begins at noon. Before the rest of the season was canceled in 2020, LSUA was 9-2 overall and 2-0 in conference play and ranked No. 8 in the nation.

Even with all the newcomers, LSUA women’s tennis coach Melinda Descant is excited for the season to begin and she has high hopes for the squad.”

“This team is unique because we have a lot of talent, some with experience and some young promising newcomers,” Descant said. “My girls from last year, as well as these girls, are hard workers, smart and tough on the court, not to mention good students in the classroom and that’s all a coach can ask for.” Packer, the team captain from Durham, England, is the only upperclassman on the nine-player team, which also has four sophomores and four freshmen. She returns for her fifth season with the Generals following the second half of the season being canceled last season.

“I am definitely very excited to get started,” Packer said. “It has been a long wait, but I know it will be worth it. There is no other feeling comparable to playing college sports and being a part of a successful team who works hard, so I’m very excited.” The senior finished with a 5-1 record in singles, splitting time between the No. 3 and 4 spots in the rotation, including 3-0 at the No. 4 position. She also went 2-2 in doubles.

Being the lone senior is excited to be the leader of such a young squad.

“It definitely gives added pressure to know that younger players are looking up to me,” Packer said. “But I have to take that pressure as a privilege.

When I was a freshman, I always looked up to the older players on my team, so I understand the impact that I am going to have in terms of the growth of the new players. I hope that I can be a positive role model for them as they continue to grow this season.” She is one of four returners on the team this season, joining sophomore Vanessa Larez, Patricia Martinez Molina, and freshman Darija Mladenovic. Mladenovic, a freshman from Nis, Serbia, recorded a 4-4 record, splitting time between the No. 1 and 2 spots in the singles rotation, including 2-1 at No. 2. A sophomore from Madrid, Spain, Martinez Molina finished 6-1 in singles, playing primarily at the No. 5 position, where she went 5-0. As impressive as her record was in singles, it was even more impressive in doubles. There, she went 7-1, splitting time between the No. 1 and 2 positions. Larez, a sophomore from Porlamar, Isla Margarita, Venezuela, finished 4-0, playing two matches each in singles and doubles. The newcomers--sophomores Candela Bonivardi and Alicia Romero Gomez and freshmen Maria Alvarez, Johanna Brauer, and Carme Ibanyez Navarro--make up the rest of the roster.

“When recruiting, I always try to get a mixture of players,” Descant said. “Keeping players that have been with me for a few years is always important, recruiting transfers with collegiate court experience and getting promising freshmen to commit to my team are all important. I feel with the class I have recruited this year, I have successfully done all three.”

Bonivardi comes to LSUA after two seasons at Florida National, where she primarily played the No. 1 spot in singles and doubles.

“Bonivardi plays with a lot of finesse, Descant said. “She will be the core of our team and will make a difference in the number of matches we win this year.” Alicia Romero Gomez comes over from Chowan University. Last season, she went 2-6 in both singles and doubles, spending her time in the top half of the rotation. Alvarez, who has a chance to be the No. 1 singles player on the team, the Spaniard Ibanyez Navarro and the German Brauer round out the roster.

“Maria Gomez, a freshman, from Spain, is already on the top of the lineup and promises to be a huge asset to our team,” Descant said. “Carme Ibanez and Johanna Brauer are also freshmen which will both contribute greatly to our victories this year.”

Alvarez is ready for the season to begin, but coming over from a different country, it has been a bit difficult.

“What I’m finding hardest is the language, because English is my second language,” Alvarez said. “But I have adapted very well to LSUA because of Melinda and my classmates because they are always helping me with everything.” Following the match on Sunday, the Generals travel to Natchitoches for a date with Southland Conference power Northwestern State on Tuesday at 1 p.m. LSUA scheduled NSU to be its opener, which was supposed to be last month, but COVID caused the original meeting to be postponed.

It is the second consecutive exhibition match for the Generals against Division I competition. Descant likes scheduling these matches early on.

“We always start our season playing D1 teams and tough teams like Northwestern State,” she said. “It helps us gauge where we are as far as our tennis, as well as our conditioning.”

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