Women’s tennis advances to NCAA quarterfinals

Women’s tennis (18-3, 6-0 in the NESCAC) advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships with wins over Wellesley in the regional final on Sunday and St. Lawrence in the semifinal on Saturday. Williams won both matches 5-0. The nationally second-ranked Ephs will continue in the NCAA tournament starting May 13 at Gustavus Adophus in St. Peter, Minn.

“We have some great momentum going into the Elite 8 next week,” Head Coach Alison Swain said. “Being able to play strongly in both doubles and singles in the first two rounds of the tournament is a huge confidence builder for us.”

Wellesley, coming off a triumphant first-round victory over Tufts, did not give up easily, but Williams pressed past Wellesley for a decisive 5-0 victory.

On court one, Cary Gibson ’09 and her partner co-captain Annie Schneidman ’08 took their match 8-2. Co-captain Allie Rottkamp ’08 and Grace Baljon ’10 won their match 8-4, while the third duo of Annie Hancock ’09 and Nikki Reich ’11 took an 8-5 victory.

Despite having doubles play squared away, the women were challenged at singles. Gibson fell in her first set, 6-1, then managed the same score in her favor for the second, tying her Wellesley opponent. Ashley Parsons ’11 and Reich slid by their competitors to take a set each, 6-4. However, the game turned decisively in favor of the Ephs when Baljon earned the team its fourth point with a 6-4, 6-2 victory on court two, and Reich’s 6-1 result in her second set brought in the team win.

“Our doubles have improved tremendously this year, but our singles still remains our bread and butter,” Swain said. “We know that if we don’t come out strong in doubles that we can still compete at every single singles position against any team in the country.”

The team exhibited its ability to sweep doubles play earlier in the tournament, also beating St. Lawrence 5-0. The difference between the Wellesley match and the St. Lawrence match, however, was that the Saints provided significantly less of a threat to the Ephs’ success, making them able to finish the match in less than two hours. The three doubles teams of Gibson and Schneidman, Rottkamp and Baljon, and Hancock and Reich took their respective matches to put Williams at an advantage early in the match.

In singles, Reich tallied the penultimate winning point for the Ephs in beautifully-played 6-0, 6-0 sets. Not long after that victory Baljon earned a win of her own, 6-2, 6-0, to clinch the win.

Now the team is looking ahead. “Rankings and past matches don’t matter anymore,” Swain said. “It is about coming together as a team and competing as best we can once we get to Gustavus. Everything is coming together at the right time, and I am really looking forward to some strong competition at the NCAA championships. It is truly a privilege to be going and the team has worked very, very hard to earn it.”

NESCAC First Team Doubles Honors were awarded to Gibson and Schneidman, as well as First Team Singles Honors for Gibson and Baljon. Schneidman received All-Conference recognition and Rottkamp earned Second Team Doubles.

With an 18-3 overall record, the Ephs are in outstanding shape for their quarterfinal match against the winner of Mary Washington and Johns Hopkins in Minnesota next week.