Miyuka Kimoto steadied herself as Louisville’s Rhea Verma played a weak forehand shot. Eager to pounce at the opportunity, Kimoto confidently planted her right foot into the ground and angled her body enough for a slice shot. However, Kimoto’s return flew out of bounds. The freshman bowed her head as Verma celebrated.
“Take your time. Don’t rush. Take your time,” head coach Younes Limam yelled. He had been pacing back and forth along Kimoto’s sideline for a while, encouraging the player to regain the ground she had lost after dropping the first set 6-2.
Although Kimoto got off to a sluggish start, she and Verma spent the next two sets playing lengthy rallies with precise hitting. Though Kimoto narrowly won the second set to force a third, her relentless play at the net proved to be too much for her opponent as she triumphed over Verma in the final set to win 2-6, 7-6 and 6-3.
“We showed a lot of grit. We showed a lot of focus and a lot of passion, and it’s great to come out on top today,” Limam said.
Limam said he was pleased with Syracuse’s start in the doubles competition. Freshman Shiori Ito and senior Sofya Treshcheva led the way in the No. 1 doubles matchup as the pair gave the Orange their first doubles win in their last five outings.
Since Limam first partnered Kimoto and Polina Kozyreva together during the latter stages of the preseason, their contrasting playstyles have paid dividends. While Kozyreva commands the backcourt, returning powerful shots with timely backhand and forehand strokes, Kimoto dominates play at the net with her fast volleys.
The duo quickly followed Ito and Treshcheva’s comfortable victory, dismantling Louisville’s Andrea Di Palma and Tatiana Simova 6-2 in the No. 2 doubles matchup to give Syracuse the doubles point.
Kimoto’s success continued as her impressive play in the No. 2 singles match clinched the fourth and final point for the Orange in their 4-3 victory over the Cardinals. The win kept Louisville at bay from demoting Syracuse to the bottom of the league standings.
This was the second dual in ACC play so far this season where Kimoto, despite her young age, had clinched victory. The first came against Clemson when Syracuse won 4-0.
The showdown against the Tigers was full of technical difficulties which forced an hour-long stoppage and resulted in three unfinished matches due to time constraints. However, none of this seemed to faze Kimoto. Her heroics in the third and deciding set against Clemson’s Eleni Louka secured Syracuse’s first league win of the spring.
But against Louisville, Kimoto didn’t play up to her standards for much of her match, with most lost points occurring due to unforced errors. There were a number of times throughout the match where she would send certain shots wide right, over the baseline or straight into the net. Even though her opponent peppered her with a flurry of powerful shots, the battle for Kimoto wasn’t her inability to get to the ball, but rather figuring out the right amount of power to return it with.
After the first set, Kimoto was visibly frustrated with her performance. Besides Ito, every SU player had lost their opening sets, and Trescheva forfeited her singles competition due to injury.
However, as Kimoto’s second set started up, Limam stayed in her corner, coaxing her during the breaks between every game in an attempt to calm Kimoto’s nerves. Since the start of the season and time after time during ACC play, Limam has been adamant that the best version of Kimoto is a collected one.
“It’s a learning process,” Limam said. “She’s experienced situations where she plays fast when things are not going her way. We planned to maximize our rest time between each game when things weren’t going our way, and she did a tremendous job with that.”
When things were going Kimoto’s way, the freshman used a wide variety of techniques with slices, drop shots and backhands. In the final point of the match, Kimoto ended a long rally by delivering a strong knockout hit, forcing a fragile return from Verma that hit the net.
“The biggest thing that we want from her and expect from her is consistency,” Limam said. “She needs to build the mindset of taking each point one by one, and if the match is not going her way, she needs to find a way to slow things down and dig in deep.”
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