Despite a shaky early start, the nationally top-ranked women’s tennis team defeated seventh-ranked archrival Amherst 7-2 at Amherst on Saturday. The win secured another undefeated regular season for the Ephs and marked the seventh time the team has bested top-ten competition this year. The win also earned the team the top seeding in the Northeast Regionals and a bye in the first round.
The Ephs, however, started sluggishly and struggled through most of the doubles play. The number one team of co-captain Selma Kikic ’02 and Steph Hall ’04 had trouble finding their rhythm early on and quickly fell behind the Amherst duo of Stephanie Fong and Heather Cole 7-2.
The Williams pair made a furious comeback to reduce the lead to 7-6, but Fong and Cole pulled through with one more game to win 8-6.
The number three doubles team of co-captain Jasmine Bradley ’02 and Julie Mallory ’04 struggled as well, falling behind the team of Tristan Hedrick and Wallis Molchen. However, Bradley and Mallory rallied back and clinched an 8-6 win.
The other doubles team of Kate Troy ’04 and Tracy Cheung ’03 avoided the pitfalls their teammates fell into and captured an 8-4 victory over the duo of Rachel Holt and Roopali Agarwal.
“It was really surprising,” said Julie Greenwood, head coach of women’s tennis, about the team’s early struggles. “We have played great doubles all spring, to the point that we now view it as a strength. I think it was a question of people coming out flat or nervous.”
In the singles competition, the tone changed. The team was lead by its departing senior captains, Kikic and Bradley, who both earned impressive straight set victories.
Kikic, playing number one, quickly atoned for her loss in doubles with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Fong. Bradley, playing number six, put forth an even more impressive performance with a shutout over Agarwal, 6-0, 6-0.
The win was the second straight shutout for Bradley, who had shut down her opponent from Tufts last week at home. Joining the departing seniors with impressive singles play was third seeded Kate Troy ’04. Troy demolished Cole in straight sets with a quick 6-1, 6-2 victory.
“We emphasized each player coming out strong in the singles play and staying positive,” said Greenwood “We wanted to convey our energy to each other and try and prevent more negativity.”
While the Ephs dominated half of the singles play, the other three matches proved to be a much greater struggle. Number two Mallory, number four Hall and number five Tracy Cheung ’03, all dropped their first sets.
Mallory, who was facing Holt, the NESCAC Rookie of the Year, fought a close first set, dropping it 7-5. In the second, though, Holt proved too strong, taking the set 6-2 and earning Amherst’s only singles point.
Hall, who lost the first set to Wallis Molchen 3-6, returned the favor by winning the second set 6-3 to tie the match at one. In the decisive third, Hall and Molchen battled back and forth. With the set tied at 6-6 and in the crucial tiebreaker, Hall overtook Molchen to win the set 7-6 and the match 2-1.
At number five, Cheung dropped her first set 4-6 to Hedrick but rallied back to win the next two sets 6-3, 6-4 to win her match 2-1.
The Ephs now head into the NCAA tournament hoping to repeat as Div. III champions. With their first round bye, the Ephs will not play again until May 11, when they will face the winner of the Bowdoin-Trinity match in the Northeast Regionals that serves as a precursor to entry in the national NCAA tournament.
“I’m really excited,” said Greenwood. “No team in Div. III tennis history as repeated as champions, so we view it as great time to step it up and see what we can do. We have a great opportunity and we expect ourselves to have a great time.”
While the Ephs have not faced Trinity this year, they have already beaten the Bears by a convincing 7-2 margin. If the Ephs beat one of their NESCAC foes, they will travel to Sweet Briar, VA for the NCAA tournament, slated to begin on May 17.
Given the Ephs’ impressive play against the top ranked teams this year, they will have to be considered the favorites to again bring the national title back to Williamstown.