If Kristina Nedeltcheva had her way, she’d play tennis at UNLV for the rest of her life.
That’s not how it works, however, and the senior from Bulgaria knows it.
Though she’ll be dreading the inevitable, Nedeltcheva will attempt to prolong her career this week as UNLV hosts the Mountain West Conference championships at the Fertitta Tennis Complex beginning today.
The 34th-ranked Rebels will enter as the No. 2 seed behind 39th-ranked Utah, and Nedeltcheva will be among the favorites to win the singles title.
As long as the 5-foot-7-inch right-hander keeps winning, she’ll live to see another day of college tennis. But it won’t be easy, as she’s coming off a crippling injury.
“It was pretty bad,” said Nedeltcheva, who injured a knee Feb. 26 in a match against Denver and missed nearly a month of action. “It took forever to heal physically and longer to get over mentally.”
But UNLV coach Kevin Cory is counting on his top player, and he suspects she’ll come through.
“Kristina’s healthy again,” said Cory, whose teams have won a combined five regular-season and MWC tourney titles in the past 10 years.
The Rebels could be viewed as the tourney favorite. Though they lost 4-3 to Utah on March 31, that match was played at Salt Lake City.
“We would certainly love to play them again,” said Cory, whose team is 20-3 overall and 7-1 in league play. “We lost to them at their place at altitude and indoors. It was one of those matches that could have gone either way. I think things will be much different if we get to play them again here.”
Different, that is, if Nedeltcheva can set the tone. Though she admits she is not at 100 percent, she is regaining confidence.
“We are more than ready to win everything,” said Nedeltcheva, ranked 49th in the nation. “We just have to go play the way we can, and everything should be good out there.”
If she plans to extend her collegiate career, Nedeltcheva has no other choice.
“The time is coming closer for me,” said Nedeltcheva, who probably will get a chance to play in next month’s NCAA Tournament. “I’m getting more and more sad because I have so many great memories of matches, places, tournaments and friends. But I want to finish strong to show the other girls there is a lot to look forward to.”
Aside from UNLV and Utah, No. 67 Texas Christian, No. 71 Brigham Young and No. 75 San Diego State should contend for the championship.
The Rebels, who have won six in a row and 17 of their last 18 matches, are undefeated at home this season. They will open with a 2 p.m. match Thursday against seventh-seeded Air Force.
The 58th-ranked UNLV men also host their tournament at Fertitta, though they look like a long shot to win.
Sophomore Mehdi Bouras will lead the way at the top singles spot for the Rebels, who are 12-11 overall and 2-4 in the Mountain West and the tournament’s No. 6 seed.
UNLV coach Owen Hambrook knows his team faces a tough road.
BYU (21-5, 6-0) went undefeated in league play to claim the top seed, but Hambrook said anything can happen in tournaments.
“Even though BYU didn’t lose a (league) match, they’re a high-altitude team,” Hambrook said. “I’m not the only coach who feels that this tournament is pretty wide open.”
The UNLV men will open against third-seeded New Mexico (8-11, 3-3) at 2 p.m. today.