Amherst (17-1, 7-0 in the NESCAC) dealt a devastating blow to women’s tennis (16-2, 6-1) on Sunday and claimed the NESCAC title for the fifth year in a row in an exact repeat of last year’s NESCAC finals with a score of 5-4. This marks the second of only two Eph losses on the season, both of which came at the hands of the Jeffs. On Saturday, Williams swept Middlebury (10-9, 6-3), which led them into the finals with a sense of confidence and hope against their rivals.
“The Amherst loss was of course disappointing,” said Head Coach Alison Swain. “They are a tough team, and the rivalry always brings out their best play.”
Within the intense Ephs and Jeffs rivalry, there exist personal rivalries, such as that between No. 1 doubles duo co-captain Cary Gibson ’09 and Nikki Reich ’11 and Amherst’s No. 1 team of Brittany Berckes and Natasha Brown. Gibson and Reich’s most triumphant wins and upsetting losses have come at the hands of this Jeffs duo, and the same was the case on Sunday when Berckes and Brown edged past Gibson and Reich with an 8-6 result.
Playing at courts two and three, respectively, the doubles teams of Taylor French ’12 and Grace Baljon ’10 and Kristin Alotta ’12 and co-captain Annie Hancock ’09 played to victory to put the Ephs up 2-1 after doubles play. Unfortunately, the Jeffs came back strong during singles play.
“We were slow to get started in several of the first sets of singles and that really hurt us,” Swain said. “Against the top teams, we have to come out in doubles and singles playing confidently and consistently. We didn’t do that as well as I know we can [on Sunday] in singles play.”
Amherst took the first two singles matches to go up 3-2. Hancock evened things out when she won her match in straight sets 6-3, 6-2, but at court three Reich fell to her Jeff opponent in three to put the Ephs under once again. Alotta retaliated against Natasha Brown at court four and tied things back up again for a suspenseful 4-4 score. Amherst’s Carlissa King won the decisive point for her team after a hard-fought three sets with Gibson, who powered through the second set but couldn’t take the third.
The loss came off an exhilarating 5-0 shutout against Middlebury the previous day, when Williams dominated both singles and doubles play. “The team played fantastically in the Middlebury match,” Swain said. “Even though scoring was stopped at 5-0 everyone had won their first singles sets and were playing really smart, aggressive tennis against a very good team. We were mentally strong and really competed as a single unit.”
Gibson and Reich started off the sweep by taking their doubles match against their Panther opponents 8-0. Baljon and French and Hancock and Alotta followed suit with closer, but nonetheless decisive, 8-6 and 9-7 results, respectively. In singles, every player won her match in two sets.
The Ephs’ struggle in the NESCAC does not necessarily indicate that the women will not do well in the NCAA tournament; the women came off the loss to Amherst in the NESCAC finals last year to win the NCAA title.
“Repeating as national champions is something that takes more than just skill,” Swain said. “Instead, we are focusing on each day. Each practice we have until our first NCAA match is important to improve our strategy and to become stronger as a team. In every match we play going forward, we will respect our opponents and compete as a single unit to the best of our ability. If we can do those things, then I will be extremely proud of this team.”