FAYETTEVILLE – Sophomore Ela Kaluder was selected to participate in the 26th annual NCAA Division I Women’s Tennis Championships, the NCAA tennis committee announced.
Hosted by the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga., at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, the event takes place from May 18 through 28.
“This is a fabulous honor for Ela, and I know that she will represent the program well,” UA head coach Michael Hegarty said. “To qualify for this event takes a full season of consistency. Although she is just a sophomore, she is capable of beating almost any player in the field.”
Kaluder continues one of the best individual seasons in recent years for the Lady Razorbacks by earning a slot in the 64-player singles draw.
While Arkansas did not make the team selections on Tuesday, Kaluder may be joined in Athens, Ga., by two of her teammates. Maryori Franco and Nanar Airapetian are the third-seeded alternates for the doubles tournament.
“Nanar and Maryori had phenomenal seasons in doubles,” Hegarty said. “They have provided us a boost all year from the regionals in the fall season when they played as individuals to at the start of every dual match when they gave us the spark toward many of our first points.”
With three underclassmen potentially in the individual draws, Hegarty was optimistic about the Lady’Backs reaching the team draw next year.
“Ela’s participation in the singles will give her great experience and confidence,” Hegarty said. “Even if Nanar and Maryori don’t make the draw, they will return next year as one of the top doubles teams in the county. We have a very strong core group of returning players next year, and we can build on the finish we had this season.”
Arkansas, 11-11 overall, finished the year 5-6 in Southeastern Conference play and third in the SEC West. Ranked 53rd as a team, Arkansas was considered one of the last bubble teams this year for the team draw.
The first-team all-SEC pick finished the spring with a 15-7 mark on the first court to lead the Lady Razorbacks. Kaluder also tied for the best conference mark for Arkansas at 5-6.
Airapetian and Franco were Arkansas’ best doubles team at 14-7 for the year and claiming a 9-4 mark on the first court. Airapetian is a 5-6 junior for Hamburg, Germany, while Franco is a 5-4 junior from Barranquilla, Colombia.
A native of Zagreb, Croatia, Kaluder is the first individual to participate in the NCAA tournament since Chin Bee Khoo advanced to the second round of the 2001 NCAA tournament. Kaluder is the first Lady’Back to advance to the NCAA singles draw on her own, as the previous individuals were also on tournament draw teams.
While Arkansas has sent its team to numerous NCAA tournaments, Kaluder is only the third Lady’Back to participate in the singles draw and the fifth Arkansas player all-time to earn a spot in the collegiate individual championship.
Along with Khoo, Maria Pavlidou was a NCAA singles draw participant. Pavlidou was the first ever in 1997, and she and Khoo became the first all-Americans at Arkansas in 1999. In the pre-NCAA era, Carol Crafton and Janan Trimble represented Arkansas at the AIAW Championships.
If Airapetian and Franco move into the NCAA bracket they become only the fourth doubles team in Arkansas history to reach the collegiate championship. Airapetian and Franco would be the first Lady’Backs since 1994 when Melinda Mones and Maria Torres reached the second round of the NCAAs, also hosted in that year by Georgia. Beth Wagner and Kellie Chase had back-to-back appearances at the 1983 and 1984 NCAA tournaments. Wagner and Lori Zacharias participated in the 1982 AIAW Championship.
The Arkansas duo will be on hold until the start of the first day of play as teams may drop right up until the start of the doubles tournament.