Jumbo win for women’s tennis has them prepped for NCAAs

Just a week after winning their third consecutive NESCAC crown, women’s tennis fell to league foe Amherst in a tight match moved inside because of bad weather. The entire 2002-03 season has been a back and forth battle between the three top teams: Williams, Amherst and Tufts. After placing third behind the Jumbos and the Lady Jeffs in the NEWITT Tourney this fall, Williams edged past the two schools in the recent NESCAC Tournament. Amherst took the prize on the third meeting this year between the two teams, knocking off Williams 5-4. Against Amherst, Williams competed without Kate Troy ’04, who was taking the MCAT.

In singles competition, Steph Hall ’04 defeated her competitor 6-3, 7-6 (4). Tracy Cheung ’03 (6-2, 6-0) and Brittany Binet ’05 (6-4, 3-6 (10-3)) both won as well. In doubles play, the tandem of Julie Mallory ’04 and Cheung held strong, defeating Amherst’s top pair 8-3.

Against Tufts on Sunday, interim Head Coach Sarah Marks ’00 led her squad back out. Troy was back with something to prove, as well. The two teams battled in the Ephs’ closest match of the year, and its conclusion saw Williams come through with a 5-4 victory over the Jumbos. It was the doubles match-ups that broke the elephant’s back for the Jumbos, seeing the Ephs go 3-0 in doubles play.

The pairs that have been groomed and ironed out all season are finally beginning to come together and click on all cylinders, just in time for next week’s Regional Tournament. Hall/Troy, Cheung/Mallory and Alex Maclennan ’06/Binet all gave Williams a confident lead going into singles play, despite each match being very close. With Williams up but the play proving to be fairly even, the singles matches unfolded with each contest going the distance to three sets.

“The fact that all six of our singles matches went to three sets today gives us a lot to look forward to and work toward in a probable rematch against them [Tufts] at Regionals next weekend,” Mallory said.

The singles were where Tufts took advantage, winning five of six and tying the day’s match at 4-4 with Maclennan the lone player yet to finish. With Sunday’s competition coming down to this last match of the day, Maclennan finished with poise that one would not expect out of a first-year. After winning the first set 6-2 and dropping the second 5-7, she found herself down 2-5 in the third set. Under the hot spring sun, the freshman phenom came back to take five straight sets to win 7-5 and seal the match for Williams.

“It was one of the gutsiest performances I’ve seen, and an unbelievable finish to what was an incredibly close match,” Marks said.

In the NCAA National Tournament starting next weekend, the Ephs will be looking to defend their back-to-back championship wins. They are the first team to have accomplished the feat in the 21-year history of the event. Last May, they downed Emory University at Sweet Briar College in Virginia.

Winning a third-straight title would be unprecedented and this year’s team has their work cut out for them. The Ephs will be hosting the first two rounds here in Williamstown, with the schedule tentatively booked for Saturday and Sunday. From here on out, all matches are single elimination.

“We will most likely have the opportunity to play Tufts again this weekend in Nationals,” Marks said. “We will be on our home courts and are looking forward to the chance to play this team again.”

The winner of the regional tournament this weekend will advance to the final round of Nationals at the University of Redlands in southern California. There will be a total of eight regional tournaments like the one Williams is hosting, and all of the winners will be automatically invited to Redlands. Amherst will be hosting the all other East Regional matches this weekend.