Women’s tennis enters NESCACs as top seed

With its 9-0 sweep of Wesleyan last Sunday, women’s tennis (17-2, 8-0 in the NESCAC) not only clinched the Little Three title for the first time in two years but also ended regular season conference play with an untarnished 8-0 record. The win came on the heels of a Saturday doubleheader victory against conference foes Hamilton and Trinity and propelled the team to No. 1 for the upcoming NESCAC tournament.

In all three of its weekend matches, the team altered its traditional doubles pairings, finding success each time. “Mixing up the line up [last weekend] provided great match experience for everyone on the team, whether that meant moving up from their normal lineup positions or getting a chance to play with a different doubles partner,” Head Coach Alison Swain said.

On Sunday, Kristin Alotta ’12 and Nikki Reich ’11 moved up from their typical No. 2 doubles slot to No.1 and notched a speedy 8-1 victory over their Cardinal opponents. Taylor French ’12 and co-captain Ashley Parsons ’10 paired together at court two and played their way to the same result. Caroline Capute ’12 and Veranika Li ’13 closed out doubles with a third win, 8-2.

The Ephs took singles play in equally quick straight set wins. Katie Friedman ’11 didn’t drop a game on the day, notching a 6-0, 6-0 win at court five. Lucy Marchese ’11 played nearly perfect tennis at No. 2, dropping just one game for a 6-1, 6-0 result. Co-captain Grace Baljon ’10, Nancy Worley ’13, Parsons and Li all had a hand in the defeat over Wesleyan and subsequent clinching of the Little Three title. All four breezed through their respective matches to sew up the 9-0 result on the day.

Saturday went much like Sunday: The Ephs played a shuffled roster en route to a doubleheader sweep of Trinity and Hamilton. The strength of the team’s altered line up proved key in neutralizing the competition. The women who dominated on Sunday, like the doubles team of Alotta and Reich, didn’t go up against Hamilton early Saturday morning. Instead, Worley and Friedman stepped in at court three to close an 8-1 result after Baljon and French had opened the day against Hamilton at court one with an 8-2 win over their Continental opponents. Meanwhile, Capute and Marchese won another 8-1 match at court two. The two followed up on their doubles prowess later in the day against Trinity, but Marchese sat out on Sunday’s doubles play for some much-needed rest.

Friedman and French followed up on their doubles wins over Hamilton with singles victories at courts four and five, respectively, while Alotta took the court for the first time on the day to notch a 6-3, 6-0 win at court one. Reich and Parsons, at No. 2 and No. 3 singles, respectively, also took their first matches on the day, while Li closed out the singles sweep with a 6-2, 6-0 showing at court six.

The women remained in good form in their afternoon match against Trinity. Doubles pairs Baljon-French and Capute-Marchese once again took their doubles matches in decisive 8-3 results, though the latter team moved to court three for the second competition of the day. Alotta and Reich premiered in doubles play on the day at court two, demonstrating that sitting out against Hamilton had been a good move – the two took their match with a flawless 8-0 score.

In singles, Marchese notched a perfect 6-0, 6-0 straight set win at court four; teammates Worley and Capute barely missed doing the same with matching 6-1, 6-2 showings at courts five and six, respectively. Playing in the top three positions, Baljon, Alotta and Reich carried their doubles success into their singles play, notching three more wins for the Ephs on the weekend.

After securing the Little Three title and wrapping up the regular season with a string of five consecutive sweeps, the team is now looking ahead to the NESCAC tournament, still hesitant to claim a perfect conference record until those last deciding matches are completed. “We haven’t finished at the top of the conference yet since we still have the conference tournament to play,” Swain said. “At this point, every match is single elimination and it is essential that we take post-season play focused on one day at a time.” This focus will prove important as the Ephs move into the NESCAC tournament starting Saturday.

The last time the team had the No. 1 seed heading into the conference tournament was in 2008, the same year it finished its regular season undefeated. The present tournament format of dual matches has only been in place since 2005: Amherst has captured the title every year since.

The team’s first match will be against the winner of this week’s Middlebury and Trinity match, which will be decided Friday morning at Amherst. The Ephs play in the semifinals at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The winner of the NESCAC tournament, which will be decided in a 9 a.m. matchup at Amherst on Sunday, will determine which team will earn the automatic NESCAC bid to the NCAA tournament. The NCAA Div. III championship will be held May 25-30 at the University of Mary Washington.

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