Papavasilopoulos’ great season leads to Oracles Master’s selection

Dillan Schorfheide, Sports Editor

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Dillan Schorfheide
Rachel Papavasilopoulos nails a serve in her singles match during the women’s tennis team’s 4-3 loss to Jacksonville State March 22 at the Darling Courts. Papavasilopoulos won her singles match in three sets.

Sam Kercheval knew Rachel Papavasilopoulos was an important part of the Eastern women’s tennis team’s lineup for the OVC tournament.

Kercheval, the former director of tennis at Eastern before Chris Tolson took over in the fall, mentioned this because the then-freshman Papavasilopoulos had missed action for a while.

Now, this September, she will compete amongst the best in NCAA women’s tennis because of her talents Kercheval recognized approximately a year and a half ago.

Papavasilopoulos had missed two months with an injury, starting after a 5-2 victory over Saint Louis University in early February 2018 and the team’s 6-1 victory over Southeast Missouri in the middle of April 2018 (when she came back).

After coming back for the conference tournament in April 2018, then returning for her sophomore season this year, Papavasilopoulos came into a leading role and guided the team well.

She posted a 19-3 singles record this year and was named the OVC Female Player of the Year, along with a first-team All-OVC selection.

“I’m extremely appreciative of all the coaches in the conference for selecting me to be player of the year, it was a great moment and I hope to repeat it again,” Papavasilopoulos said.

With those accomplishments on her resume, Papavasilopoulos was selected as one of 32 individuals who will compete at the 2019 Oracle Master’s Series in Malibu, Calif. between Sept. 26-29.

The event features some of the top NCAA Division I players in the nation.

“I’m super excited to have the privilege to get to play Oracles this year,” Papavasilopoulos said. “Freshman year was a little rough for me (because of the injury), so producing the results I did this year and having the opportunity to reap the rewards of it are great.”

The injury she incurred in the spring season of 2018 is what Papavasilopoulos credits for her growth and breakout season.

“I think being injured and being forced to sit on the sidelines reminded me how much I care about the game of tennis and motivated me to work even harder when I came back,” she said.

And work harder she did.

Papavasilopoulos said her confidence in her shots improved the most, and she added she believes in her game a lot more than she ever has. This allows her to play freer on the court, she said.

Papavasilopoulos’ season was one of the best in Eastern tennis history, not just on the women’s side.

The only other athlete to ever be the player of the year and on the conference first team was C.J. Weber for the men’s team in 2004.

Her 19 singles wins put her tied for sixth all-time on the Eastern women’s tennis list for the most singles victories in a single season.

On top of that, she was ranked 18th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Midwest rankings.

Her journey to this point began before she even thought about Eastern.

As a young teenager, she played tennis on a club team. She was also a former top 25 ranked player by the Tennis Recruiting Network for junior tennis.

In high school, Papavasilopoulos was a “blue chip,” a term used to describe the best players/prospects, according to tennisrecruiting.net.

Papavasilopoulos had a big and important spot to fill by taking over the No. 1 spot in the team’s lineup this year.

Not just that, she had big shoes to fill.

Grace Summers is the all-time singles victories leader for Eastern women’s tennis, and she graduated last spring.

Stella Cliffe was the player in the No. 1 spot in the 2017-2018 year, but she transferred to Colorado State before this year, leaving the leader position available.

Abby Carpenter and Srishti Slaria were the seniors team who also led the team (Slaria was a second-team All-OVC selection), but Papavasilopoulos led by her action with her performance in the No. 1 spot.

Papavasilopoulos’ accomplishments have been in the making since her competitive play early in her teenage years, and perhaps the Oracles in September is the sign of that.

She is preparing for the competition, but what about the future, beyond college? Surely, such accomplishments are a good sign for a longer career after four college years.

But that is not on her mind right now.

“As of right now, I’m just focusing on the short term, so my goals are all based on fall season and preparing for it,” she said.

Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].