The women’s tennis team beat Arkansas Tech University to become the Great American Conference Champions. They also advanced to the NCAA Central Region Tournament, which will be held on May 3-6. The GAC Tournament was held at Memorial Park in Bentonville, Ark. The team bypassed the first round by being regular-season champions. The Lady Bisons faced the 2013 GAC Champions, East Central University, in the semi-finals and defeated them 5-2 before progressing to beat Tech.
The Lady Bisons are ranked ninth in the NCAA II Central Region Rankings by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. Marco Ruiz is in his first season as head coach for the Bison tennis teams. Ruiz said this year’s women’s team has worked very hard and he is proud of their accomplishments, although their season is not yet complete.
“The special thing about this year’s team is the fact that the girls play every match with a lot of passion and determination for the good of the team as a whole, not just themselves,” Ruiz said. “Our strongest competitor was Arkansas Tech, and we were able to beat them twice this season. Every girl has played an important role; senior Pom Phumtip has been a great leader this season, pushing the girls to their limit in every match we play.”
During the finals, the team’s final match score was 4-3 in Harding’s favor when freshman Arielle Butler and sophomore Ali Rowden were still playing their matches. Butler was down 3-5 in her third set before coming back to win and secure the championship.
“Winning conference as a freshman is a great feeling,” Butler said. “I feel extremely blessed to have been a part of this team and for getting to play with these older girls who have more experience and knowledge. Our success this year will always be in the back of my mind in the next few years and will push us who are freshmen now to keep up the winning habits created this year.”
Rowden is ranked seventh in the region in singles play as she is 17-7, including 14-3 in number one singles this season. Rowden said the team’s strengths were players’ leadership qualities, work ethic and their bond as a family.
“This has been the best tennis season for women that Harding has had in years,” Rowden said. “We went through good times and bad times, but we made it through them. We worked, ate, sweat, cried and laughed together, and we became sisters. It was an unforgettable season, and I’m so glad we get to send our seniors out on such a good note.”
Butler said that although she will miss the seniors, she looks forward to the new faces on the team and having the talent and work ethic in the next season to exceed the newer and higher expectations they have placed on them. As the Lady Bison tennis team approaches the end of their season, Ruiz said they plan to continue working hard in the offseason on and off the tennis courts to take their team to the next level.