The University of Alberta Pandas and Bears were in Toronto (Pandas) and Montreal (Bears) during the last weekend of the Rogers Cup competing at the Canadian University Tennis Championships. As the professional stars (including Bianca Andreescu and Serena Williams) were playing on the Aviva Centre Court in Toronto, the tennis stars were aligning for the University of Alberta women’s team on the outer courts. The eight-member U. of A. women’s team worked their way through two days of team match play to the top of the podium and the gold medal. This was their second top finish at nationals in the past three years.
The U. of A men’s team, representing western Canada, took home the bronze medal for the second straight year.
As a bonus, Tereza Simonova of the U. of A. team was awarded the Player of the Year. And Coach Ivan Quintero was awarded the Coach of the Year.
Russ Sluchinski, Tennis Manager/Head Coach, Saville Community Sports Centre Tennis Program, described the player experience:
“Players like being at the Rogers Cup. The courts and facilities are incredible. Players play in front of good crowds and the energy is electric. It is a great place to showcase Canadian University tennis.”
On Saturday the Pandas faced the defending champions, the University of Montreal, in the semi-final. The tone was set in the first doubles match played by Alberta’s #1 and #2, Tereza Simonova and team captain Alina Jurca. Montreal led 6-5. But the determined Alberta duo came back to claim an 8-6 win and send a clear message: the U. of A. came to play, and to win.
Alina Jurca gave Alberta a 2-0 lead with her singles win (6-3, 6-1). Then Katie Johnson won her match in 3 sets (6-3, 4-6, 6-0) securing a 3-0 lead in matches for the U. of A. To finish off the semi-final in Alberta’s favour, Tereza Simonova persevered with a come-from-behind victory over Montreal’s Aziza Berreri (3-6, 6-4, 6-1).
The remaining matches featured Alberta’s Samantha Chapman winning at #4 singles, and Montreal winning at #2 and #6 singles. The final tally: University of Alberta 5, University of Montreal, 2. The University of Alberta moved on to the final with a spring in their step and a whip in their swings!
The final on Sunday was even closer against the University of Western Ontario. Alberta got off to a quick start taking a 3-match lead (8-2 win in doubles, singles wins by Alina Jurca and Katie Johnson). Needing just one more victory to take the title, the teams’ #1 players took to the court–Helen He of Western vs. Tereza Simonova of the U. of A. Simonova won the first set 6-2. Then Helen He took the second set 6-4. In the third set Simonova sped to an early 5-1 lead. But Helen He rallied to 5-3. In a final surge, Simonova broke serve to secure the 6-3 victory and the championship title for the University of Alberta.
The remaining matches continued with a shortened format. Western won at #2, #4, and #6 singles. The final tally: 4 matches for the University of Alberta, 3 matches for the University of Western Ontario. National university women’s champions: The University of Alberta!
(Photo credit: Peter Figura, see more photos here.)
First year Panda, Tereza Simonova, from Red Deer, Alberta, was awarded the Player of the Year, a prestigious national award for university players.
Here is more about Tereza, in her own words.
How did you get started in tennis? “Tennis has always been a huge part of my life. I started the sport at just three years old and have been playing ever since. My dad who was my coach my whole life molded me into the player I am today. With his help, I was able to continue to pursue my passion at the university level. It is my first year at the U. of A. I am balancing a schedule of studying for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing & playing on the Pandas tennis team. It is an amazing feeling not only knowing the Pandas have brought home the gold but it is also a huge self-achievement receiving this year’s MVP award. I look forward to the next few years at the U. of A. and continuing to be a part of the Pandas tennis team.”
What was the highlight of the weekend for you? “The highlight was definitely our team winning the gold title. It was a great feeling seeing all the hard work our team has put into this year pay off. We achieved everything we had hoped for. It was also a huge honor to be awarded the MVP award this year and just being present at the Rogers Cup.”
Tereza went undefeated in singles and in doubles in this her first national tournament as a university player.
What does it mean to you to receive the MVP award for the tournament? ” Receiving this award meant everything to me. It was a reflection of the hard work that I put in this year and it shows that any sacrifices I made throughout the year were worth it. It was a huge honor. I am extremely thankful to have been awarded MVP.”
Why do think the U. of A. program is so successful in terms of national results? “Our program is a success for many reasons. One of the most important though would be the dedication from our coaches Ivan & Carson, and our trainers and other individuals who help facilitate our team’s success. Their constant help and support allowed our team to perform at its optimum level. I am so thankful for all that they do for our team and I don’t know what we would do without them.”
(Photo below: Ivan Quintero and Tereza Simonova receiving their individual awards. Photo credit: Peter Figura. See more pictures here.)
In his 4th year coaching the Pandas tennis team, Ivan Quintero was delighted to receive the Coach of the Year award.
Ivan is a Venezuelan/Canadian tennis coach with international experience at all levels. In Venezuela he was the U16 doubles national champion and the U18 singles champion. In 2007 Ivan worked as a coach and physical trainer for several top national, ATP and WTA players with the Venezuelan Fed Cup team. For the last 8 years he has been part of the coaching staff at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
“I am proud of how they came together as a team and handled the moments of pressure.” (Coach Ivan Quintero).
(Below: Ivan Quintero wins the Coach of the Year award. Photo credit: Peter Figura. See more photos here.)
The University of Alberta men’s team lost in a close but disappointing semi-final against the defending champions, University of Montreal (4-2), a strong team indeed. The U. of A. won easily in the third-place playoff against Memorial University, Newfoundland (6-1), bringing home the bronze medal.
Connor Khademazad had a 3-0 record in singles and doubles and went undefeated overall through the season.
The Bears trained hard during the entire 2018-19 season. They had clear goals going into nationals, their focus on the gold medal. Unfortunately the little green ball did not cooperate. The team will reset for next year and begin a new journey toward the Canadian national title. They can take pride in their longtime reign as western Canadian champions, a fantastic achievement in itself.
Head Coach Russ Sluchinski has been with the U. of A. tennis program since 1995. He commented on the factors contributing to the teams’ success:
“A number of things contribute to the teams’ success: the support of the tennis program by our Athletic Department, passionate coaches/trainers, excellent captains. A lot of the players we recruit come from the Saville Community Sports Centre junior performance programs where they have received some great coaching. We have been fortunate to recruit a few awesome players from outside of Edmonton and outside of Alberta to supplement the local players. When we group the players together they work hard as a team on and off the court with the goal of winning the National Championship.”
Looking forward to next year, the Golden Bears will lose two players and the Pandas will lose one player to graduation. Sluchinski expects that if both teams work hard on and off the court they will be very competitive in play-downs.
For more photos of the event click here.
Read more on the Tennis Canada web site.
The University of Alberta tennis dynasty bounces on and on and on. Is there room for another banner at the Saville Community Tennis Centre’s tennis facility? Congratulations to all the Pandas on the national championship, 2019.
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