GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum women's tennis team has unveiled its 2017-18 schedule, head coach Adam Jackson announced.
The Pioneers, the defending South Atlantic Conference Championship tournament winners, will play four non-conference matches in the fall and a pair of tournaments before embarking on a 10-match SAC schedule in March.
Tusculum finished 20-7 overall and tied for second place in the SAC with a 9-2 record in 2016-17, then defeated Newberry, Queens and Wingate to capture the program's fourth SAC Tournament title. The Pioneers faced nine ranked opponents last season, with victories over Northwood, Queens and Wingate, and finished 40th in the ITA Division II rankings for the 2016-17 season.
The Pioneers will open their schedule on Saturday, Sept. 9 with a trip to face Virginia-Wise. The Pioneers faced the Cavaliers last fall at home and earned a 6-3 victory in their second of two fall matches. Virginia-Wise went 9-10 overall last season and 3-4 in the Mountain East Conference, losing to West Liberty in the opening round of the league tournament.
On September 16, the Pioneers will participate in the Western Carolina Invitational, then will visit Emmanuel on Wednesday, Sept. 20 before hosting King in their only home match of the fall on Monday, Sept. 25 at the Nichols Tennis Complex. Emmanuel finished 17-11 overall last season and 10-1 in Conference Carolinas, advancing to the semifinals of the National Christian College Athletic Association tournament. The Pioneers defeated King 9-0 last fall on the road in their first match of the season, as the Tornado finished 2-15 overall and 0-11 in Conference Carolinas.
The Pioneers will then travel to Sumter, South Carolina for the ITA Southeast Regional from September 28 to October 1. In last year's regional, Annie McCullough won the flight B singles title and teamed with Sarah Baker to earn the flight B doubles championship. Tusculum's final competition of the fall will be at the Grizzly Open in Lawrenceville, Georgia and the Belmont Abbey Duals in Charlotte from October 13-15.
The spring schedule will begin on Wednesday, Feb. 7 with a home match against Young Harris. The Mountain Lions were ranked 38th in the ITA Division II poll when they defeated the Pioneers 7-2 at home last season. Tusculum will then head to Belmont Abbey to face the Crusaders on Saturday, Feb. 10 before playing their first home match of the spring on Saturday, Feb. 17 against North Georgia. The Nighthawks were ranked 34th when they edged the Pioneers 5-4 in last year's meeting.
Tusculum will travel to Hilton Head, South Carolina for its annual spring break trip from March 6-9, then will open the conference schedule on Saturday, March 10 at Coker. The Pioneers posted an 8-1 win over the Cobras in last year's meeting. Coker finished 6-9 overall and in eighth place in the SAC With a 4-7 league record.
Back-to-back home matches follow on Wednesday, March 14 against Anderson and Saturday, March 17 against Catawba. The Pioneers posted identical 7-2 wins over the Trojans and Indians last season. The Pioneers will visit Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday, March 21 to face a Railsplitters squad that lost to Tusculum 8-1 last season.
Anderson, which ended the season tied for 50th in the ITA Division II rankings, finished tied for second in the SAC With Tusculum and Queens at 9-2 and went 18-5 overall after losing to Wingate in the conference semifinals. Catawba turned in a 13-11 overall record last season and was 2-9 in the conference, while Lincoln Memorial finished seventh in the league at 5-6 and went 11-7 overall last year.
The Pioneers will then travel to Wingate for a renewal of what has been one of the top rivalries in the SAC in recent years. The Bulldogs beat the Pioneers 5-4 in Greeneville during the regular season last year, but lost 5-4 to Tusculum in the SAC championship match. Tusculum and Wingate have combined to win six of the last seven SAC Championship tournaments, while four of the last five regular-season meetings have been decided by a 5-4 score. Wingate went 11-0 in the conference last year and finished with an overall record of 17-4 and ranked 42nd in Division II by the ITA.
Tusculum will then play its next three matches at home, starting on Wednesday, March 28 against Mars Hill. The Pioneers won 9-0 on the road against the Lions last season. The Pioneers will then host Lenoir-Rhyne on Friday, March 30, looking to duplicate last year's 8-1 win over the Bears.
On Saturday, April 7, Queens University of Charlotte will visit the Nichols Tennis Complex. The Royals dealt the Pioneers a 7-2 loss during their regular-season meeting last year and earned the number-two seed in the SAC Tournament, but the Pioneers came back to claim a 5-1 win in the semifinal match over the 50th-ranked Royals. Queens finished tied for second place at 9-2 in the SAC, and went 12-4 overall last season.
The regular season will conclude when the Pioneers travel to Carson-Newman on Wednesday, April 11 and Newberry on Saturday, April 14. Tusculum posted 8-1 wins over both the Eagles and the Wolves in the regular season last year, with the Pioneers adding a 5-0 win over Newberry in the SAC Championship quarterfinals. Carson-Newman took fifth place in the conference at 7-4, and went 8-10 overall, while Newberry ended up 15-10 overall and 6-5 in the league.
The SAC Women's Tennis Championship will begin Tuesday, April 17 on campus sites, and will conclude at the Cayce Tennis Center in Cayce, South Carolina with semifinals on Friday, April 20 and the finals and Saturday, April 21. The winner of the conference tournament will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Women's Tennis Championship tournament.