Lady Lions begin tennis title quest

Arkansas-Pine Bluff has never won a SWAC men’s or women’s team tennis tournament championship, but both teams will have an opportunity starting Friday in New Orleans.

The Lady Lions made their first SWAC tournament in two years as the sixth and final seed and will take on fourth-seeded Alcorn State at 9 a.m. Friday at City Park Tennis Center. The winner of that match will take on Jackson State in the semifinal round on Saturday.

The Lady Lions (6-20) qualified for the conference tournament in their first year under coach James Cowan, a former Golden Lions player.

“The first challenge was getting them on board as a young coach and getting the program together,” said Cowan, who played at UAPB from 2005-09.

Five of the six Lady Lions are on scholarship, including his top two singles players, Maria Cabane of Guatemala and Elizabeth Perez-Rodriguez of Mexico. Ecuadorian Monica Arcos, the No. 3 singles player, has been the team’s most consistent, Cowan said.

Cowan switched Cabane and Perez-Rodriguez to the Nos. 1 and 2 spots, respectively, for the SWAC tournament, hoping that will give the Lady Lions a chance to win. Cabane and Fabiola Cardoso-Delgado of Mexico, who were the No. 2 doubles pair most of the season, will play as the No. 1 pair, with Perez-Rodriguez and Arcos teaming as the No. 2 duo. Khadijah Kenyatte of White Hall and Destiny Jones of Earle, the other two Lady Lions, make up the third doubles team.

Because the SWAC has only six men’s teams, the Golden Lions automatically qualified for the conference tournament, but has yet to win a team match this season. Ecuadorian Nicolas Plaza and Brazilian Lenardo Vieira are the only two scholarship players on the team, according to Cowan.

The UAPB men’s team will take on fourth-seeded Jackson State at 1 p.m. Friday for the right to play No. 1 Alcorn State on Saturday.

The championship round for both men and women will be held Sunday.