OC (16-3) is ranked fourth entering the national tournament, which started Tuesday at Copeland-Cox Tennis Center. The Lady Eagles received a first-round bye and won't play until Wednesday at 9 a.m., when they'll face either Savannah College of Art and Design-Savannah (Ga.) (9-3) or Nebraska Wesleyan (12-9).
A win in their opening match would propel the Lady Eagles into a probable quarterfinal match with Azusa Pacific (Calif.), the team that eliminated OC last season in the quarterfinals. OC's other quarterfinal trips ended with losses in 2000, 2001 and 2010.
OC coach Kris Miller said the Lady Eagles are healthy and sharp headed into the national tournament. They also know not to look too far ahead - a lesson learned the hard way last year.
"Azusa is who knocked us out last year," Miller said. "I think we're a lot better than last year. I think our girls will have a lot of motivation against them. It's kind of nice that we lost to them last year, in a way. It gives us an opportunity to focus and realize we can't look ahead to anybody. We've got to get through these first matches first."
OC has two of the top singles players at the top of its lineup - sophomore Hermon Brhane, who's No. 3 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's NAIA rankings, and sophomore Lucie Sipkova, who's No. 11.
Brhane and Sipkova, who won the NAIA women's doubles title in the U.S. Tennis Association-ITA Small College Championships last October in Mobile, are ranked third. The OC duo of Maryfer Abreu Roman and Marta Contel Miranzo is ranked 12th, but Abreu Roman and Contel Miranzo now have new doubles partners - Andreea Constantinescu and Gabriela Carrillo, respectively.
Should OC play Savannah College of Art and Design - and that's likely, since SCAD beat Nebraska Wesleyan 9-0 in last year's NAIA tournament - OC knows the Bees also have a pair of top singles players in Theresa Schmaus (ranked 19th) and Magdalena Bresson (ranked 31st). As a doubles pair, Schamus and Bresson are ranked fifth.
"Savannah is usually pretty solid," Miller said.
OC has gone with a six-woman lineup all season and will stick with it for the national tournament. Following Brhane and Sipkova in singles will be Constantinescu at the No. 3 position, Abreu Roman at No. 4, Contel Miranzo at No. 5 and Carrillo at No. 6.
Miller thinks if the tournament progresses as expected, about four teams - including his own - have a chance to win the national title. Auburn-Montgomery (Ala.) has held the No. 1 spot in the NAIA coaches' poll all season and has won seven of the last eight national titles, making the Senators the prohibitive favorites. Fresno Pacific (Calif.), Embry-Riddle (Fla.), OC and Azusa Pacific have rounded out the top five in each of the last six coaches' polls.
Miller said his players "are really healthy and in a good frame of mind. The girls have worked real hard with no complaining. They've got kind of a calm about them. I feel pretty good about it. Sometimes you come out here and you're flat, but I don't think that will happen. They're pretty fit and pretty confident."