From the day they set foot on campus, the Chiricosta sisters conquered Bowling Green tennis.
Avon Lake graduates Nikki and Christine — now Christine Dieken — will soon be ranked first and second in singles and combined (single and doubles) victories at the school and likely second and third in doubles wins.
Nikki, a senior, recently broke the singles and combined wins marks and enters today’s Mid-American Conference Tournament with 96 singles wins and 190 combined. She also has 94 doubles victories, five more than her sister.
But there isn’t a rivalry, in fact just the opposite. The pair’s only state championship with the Shoregals came when they played doubles together in 2006, an accomplishment Christine said is her greatest because she shared it with Nikki.
Family has always been first.
“The special part about it is my sister and I can sit on the top,” said Nikki, who Wednesday became the first Bowling Green player to win MAC Player of the Year honors in women’s tennis. “I don’t think a lot of families can share that. My sister always told me that if anyone was to break her records she wanted it to be me. I’m glad I was able to do that.”
They never played doubles together in college, but followed similar paths their senior seasons to rewrite the record book. Christine had established herself as the best player on the team in 2011 and regularly played No. 1 singles and doubles. Nikki plays No. 1 singles and spends most of the time at
No. 2 doubles.
As they got close to the records, the pressure intensified.
“Senior year we both started to play pretty tentative in our matches because we were nervous, we were focused on that number,” said Christine, who is the Avon Lake girls tennis coach and teaches English at the high school. “As soon as we could get away from that idea of worrying about the records and worry about playing for a team and getting a win for our team, we started playing like ourselves again.”
Tennis, specifically Bowling Green tennis, runs in the family. Their parents, Sheila and Rick, were scholarship players at Toledo but Sheila coached the Falcons from 1987-90 and led them to a then-school record 15 wins her final season before giving the reins to current coach Penny Dean.
She was pregnant with Christine during her tenure there.
Christine set the bar as high as she could from 2008-11. She broke the singles record by eight wins, the doubles by five and the combined record by 25, finishing her career with 178 total victories, 89 in each. She posted 40-win seasons in three of her four years, missing the mark by one her sophomore year, and is one of six players to record a 50-win season.
But the very season Christine capped off her career, Nikki showed the potential to be even better. Three players had 50 wins that year, but it was Nikki, as a freshman, who led them all with 53 — the third most in BG history.
Her impressive debut drew comparisons to her sister, and whispers of whether or not she’d break her records.
“It was a good kind of pressure,” said Nikki, who Monday was also the female recipient of the Falcon Medal of Honor, the highest award given by BG’s athletic department. “I used that pressure as motivation. My biggest goal was not to be considered Christine’s little sister, I wanted to just be Nikki.”
Last season, Nikki became the only Falcon to record two seasons of 50 or more combined wins with 51. This year she joined Maddy Eccleston as the only players to win 40 or more matches all four seasons.
She leads the team with 41 combined victories this season.
And she broke Christine’s records against Western Michigan, a match Bowling Green also won 4-3. The win gave the Falcons their second straight victory over the Broncos after starting 0-38 against them.
“It was such a special day,” Nikki said. “The fact that my team was able to win, too, made it that much more special. I had something bigger to celebrate. It was awesome.”
For Chiricosta to tie Eccleston’s all-time doubles record of 97 — set last year — the Falcons would have to reach the MAC Tournament final and she’d have to win all three doubles matches.
Bowling Green finished sixth in the MAC standings and will face Eastern Michigan today at Miami of Ohio. The winner advances to face second-seeded Ball State on Saturday with the final on Sunday. The Falcons are 0-3 against the top three seeds.
That record, however, is a distant afterthought compared to going out as a champion.
“If we could win the tournament this weekend, that’s the best possible career I could ask for,” said Nikki, who wants to be a sports journalist. “We were so close last year. It would be the icing on the cake if we could do it this year.”
Contact Chris Sweeney at 329-7135 or email@example.com.