Clementina Riobueno went from getting pulled from the singles lineup on Feb. 27 against Wake Forest — she was playing too defensively, said her coach — to starring against Clemson two days later and earning ACC Player of the Week honors.
Credit the new-found depth on the 2015 Miami Hurricanes’ women’s tennis team.
Because the team is so deep with two seniors, two juniors and five freshmen competing for six singles spots, coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews has the luxury of using the hottest players.
“This is first time in my career I feel like every time I put a team on the court that we have an incredible shot at winning every single position,” said Yaroshuk-Tews, in her 14th season at Miami.
That’s high praise considering Yaroshuk-Tews has led the Canes to the round of 16 of the NCAA tournament in each of the past nine seasons. In six of those years, Miami reached the Elite Eight.
This year’s team, ranked 14th in the nation, is stacked, especially in doubles. Junior Stephanie Wagner of Germany and senior Lina Lileikite of Latvia are ranked seventh in the nation. Riobueno, a junior from Venezuela, and Monique Albuquerque, a senior from Brazil who is working on her master’s degree, are 17th.
Against Clemson, Wagner and Lileikite were three points away from knocking off the nation’s No. 1 duo, leading 7-4, 15-15. But after the Canes won the other two doubles matches to clinch the point, the Wagner-Lileikite near-victory goes down as unfinished.
“The doubles point was bittersweet,” said Yaroshuk-Tews, who would be in favor of an NCAA rule change allowing all matches to be completed. “That [win] would’ve been huge in terms of NCAA seeding, but they will get other opportunities.”
Yaroshuk-Tews said she has seen some coaches call for “bathroom breaks” on other matches to allow a potential upset to happen, but she was not about to do something outside the spirit of the rules.
In singles, Miami has five players ranked among the nation’s top 100: Wagner (10), freshman Sinead Lohan of Ireland (45), Riobueno (62), Lileikite (84) and freshman Wendy Zhang of Canada (90).
Yaroshuk-Tews considers those first four secure in the lineup, but Zhang and Albuquerque face a challenge each week in practice from freshmen Silvia Fuentes of Spain and Yolimar Ogando of Puerto Rico.
Ogando had a hand injury that set her back about four months in the fall, but she is now healthy, and Yaroshuk-Tews views her as having great potential.
“She was a top-10 recruit,” the coach said.
Miami was ranked as high as No. 9 this season, but 4-0 losses to former No. 1 UCLA and current No. 1 North Carolina knocked the Canes down to No. 20. (UCLA is now No. 12.)
But after an impressive 7-0 win over then-No. 14 Clemson, the Canes moved back up to their current ranking.
The remaining schedule includes trips to No. 4 Baylor (March 17), No. 5 Virginia (March 27) and No. 25 Notre Dame (April 10).
Among the home matches are: No. 21 Duke, which visits on April 2, and North Carolina, which comes in April 4.
Senior forward Jasmine Wilkins was named the Sunshine State Conference’s Women’s Basketball Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. LeAnn Freeland was the Coach of the Year.
Men’s basketball standout Yunio Barrueta, a junior wing, was named first-team All-SSC for the second year in a row.