Gathered in a half-circle in front of a flat screen TV Tuesday afternoon on the second-floor deck inside Jayhawk Tennis Center at Rock Chalk Park, members of the University of Kansas women’s tennis team didn’t greet their inclusion in the upcoming NCAA Tournament by jumping out of their seats or howling with joy.
As the selection show revealed the Jayhawks will take on Denver in the opening round, they applauded, smiled and released a “woo-hoo” or two.
The reaction had nothing to do with a lack of enthusiasm from senior Desponia Vogasari; juniors Nina Khmelnitckaia, Janet Koch and Anastasia Rychagova; sophomores Maria Toran Ribes and Tatiana Nikolaeva; and freshmen Amber Policare and Carla Pons Martorell. It’s just that the program, with its third tournament berth in a row, has reached a point where getting to the NCAA Tournament, while rewarding, also is expected.
“At this point we knew,” head coach Todd Chapman explained. “We were very close to hosting this year, so we knew for sure we were in and there wasn’t any drama there. I think it’s more of a professional mindset of, ‘We’ve done this before.’”
KU (17-5) enters the 64-team tournament and its May 11 matchup with Denver (19-4) at Ralphs-Straus Tennis Center in Malibu, Calif., ranked 18th nationally.
Khmelnitckaia said she expected a low-key response to the bracket unveiling.
“We’re just looking forward to getting ready,” the junior from Moscow said, “and focused on the things we have to get done.”
The Jayhawks already possess familiarity with their first-round opponent as preparations commence.
"We've played them in some form or fashion every year for the last four years," Chapman shared. "We played them a few years ago, back-to-back, home and away. Last year, we were at a fall event with them where we did a scrimmage-type atmosphere as far as how you play it.”
Denver leads the all-time series between the programs, 4-2. As Chapman referenced, they met up in both 2015 and 2016, with the Pioneers winning both. Denver also prevailed versus KU in doubles, in 2017.
Coming off a loss in the Big 12 quarterfinals to Baylor this past Friday, in Austin, Texas, Kansas, one of four schools playing in the same pod as No. 13 overall seed Pepperdine, will head to California looking to improve upon its previous two tournament appearances. The Jayhawks lost, 4-3, to Notre Dame in 2017, and to UC Santa Barbara, 4-3, in 2016.
“The last two years we have not gotten out of the first round. We’ve played two really tough matches and had opportunities to win both of those, but we haven’t gotten out of the first round. So I think that’s really got to be our focus,” Chapman said, “and knowing how much we respect Denver and their coaching staff, that we’ve got a tall task in front of us there, and we’d better be ready and not looking beyond that.”
Should Kansas topple the Pioneers, KU would face the winner of host Pepperdine and Idaho.
KU made the NCAA Tournament field for the 10th time in program history. The last time the Jayhawks were awarded three consecutive berths to the tournament was from 1996-99.