By Walter Villa
via the Miami Herald
CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Miami Hurricanes tennis standout Lina Lileikite had four wisdom teeth pulled last month.
Five days later, she was back on the court.
Last weekend, Lileikite was named the MVP of Atlantic Coast Conference postseason tournament in Cary, N.C., embodying the spirit of a program that has been amazingly consistent during the past decade.
“We fight to the end,” said Lileikite, who plays No. 3 singles for the Canes. “We understand that it takes one more ball to put inside the court than our opponent.”
The Canes (20-5) will take that simple approach to their home courts May 10-11 when they host an NCAA regional for the ninth year in a row.
Miami will play North Florida (16-4) a week from Friday at 11 a.m. The other first-round match at UM’s Neil Schiff Center will feature South Carolina (13-11) and Purdue (17-5) at 2 p.m. The winners will play May 11 at 1 p.m. Every round of the 64-team NCAA tournament is single elimination.
The Canes have advanced out of regionals and to the Sweet 16 for seven consecutive years, and they have gone to the elite eight four straight years.
But some things are a bit different this season. The Canes are coming off their first ACC title, and their No. 6 national seeding matches the 2009 team for the highest in program history.
Canes coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews, who has directed super talents such as NCAA champ Audra Cohen, former No. 1 national seed Megan Bradley and All-American Bianca Eichkorn, loves her current team.
“I think this is probably the best team I’ve ever coached,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “We’ve had some amazing players in the past. But top to bottom, this is the best unit.”
Yaroshuk-Tews is also thrilled that the Canes have no seniors and should be able to grow together and improve during the next couple of years.
One of those young players is Lileikite, a 5-9 sophomore from Latvia. There’s also No. 1 singles player Stephanie Wagner, a freshman from Germany; No. 2 Kelsey Laurente, a freshman from Miramar; No 4 Clementina Riobueno, a freshman from Venezuela; No 5 Monique Albuquerque, a sophomore from Brazil; and No 6 Melissa Bolivar, a junior from Colombia.
Brittany Dubins, a junior from Miami Krop High School, teams with Wagner at No. 3 doubles. The other doubles pairings, based on Miami’s most recent match, are Albuquerque and Riobueno, and Bolivar and Laurente.
“They all have that fighting spirit,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “They are workers.”
The coach said that five days before the ACC finals, she put pressure “full throttle” on Lileikite, an only child and tough-minded 21-year-old who taught herself English online in Latvia and was coached by her father, Saulius.
“I knew Lina could handle it,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “All the stories I heard about her dad coaching her made me sound easy.”
The pressure tactic worked, and now the Canes will look for more.
And, no, Yaroshuk-Tews is not worried that her team will not live up to her lofty praise.“I’ve been telling them that pressure is a privilege,” the coach said. “If you don’t have pressure, it means you aren’t any good.”