Jeffs drop women’s tennis for championship

Following a decisive 5-1 victory over Middlebury in the first round of the NESCAC tournament on Saturday, No. 2 women’s tennis (18-3) fell to Amherst in the title match for the sixth straight time on Sunday as the Jeffs pulled off a 5-0 upset over the top-seeded Ephs. Amherst, against which Williams has a 1-2 record this year, hosted the tournament. Despite their failure to capture the NESCAC title, the Ephs received an at-large bid and the right to host the first three rounds of NCAAs thanks to their stellar performance this season. The women, who have fallen to Amherst in each of the past three NESCAC championships, are nevertheless the two-time reigning NCAA champions.

Williams entered Sunday’s match against Amherst seeded first in the NESCAC. Amherst, reigning NESCAC champion and the second seeded team in the conference, had dropped Tufts 5-0 in the semifinal on Saturday to advance to the championship match-up. Despite chilly conditions and high winds, the match remained outside. Despite having played with different doubles pairings and court positions toward the end of its regular season, the team went with the season’s traditional doubles pairings for the match. Co-captain Grace Baljon ’10 and Taylor French ’12 lost 8-3 at court one, while the teams of Kristin Alotta ’12 and Nikki Reich ’11 at No. 2 and Lucy Marchese ’11 and Caroline Capute ’12 at No. 3 both fell 8-5 in their matches and the Ephs entered singles play in a 3-0 hole.

“Unfortunately, we let Amherst get a lead on some of the doubles courts early on and it was to tough to come back,” Head Coach Alison Swain said of the morning’s play.

Singles play initially looked promising for the Ephs, but the Jeffs only needed two wins to take the match and found them on courts two and three. Alotta and Reich slipped against their Jeff opponents with 6-4, 6-3 and 6-1, 6-4 losses, respectively. The rest of the singles matches went unplayed, since a win was out of Williams’ reach.

“While we played well in singles, I do think Amherst was better prepared … on Sunday and it showed in their results,” Swain said. “They definitely earned the win.”

Rain forced Saturday’s semifinal against fourth-seeded Middlebury, into which Williams had a bye due to its No. 1 seeding, to an indoor court at Mount Holyoke. The Ephs asserted themselves early on, grabbing two of the three doubles matches to lay claim to an early 2-1 lead. The No. 2 team of Alotta and Reich, playing on court two, weren’t able to top their Panther opponents, but Marchese and Capute took their match by a decisive 8-1 score, which Baljon and French followed up with an 8-2 win of their own.

Reich notched the first singles victory for the Ephs with a 6-3, 6-4 showing at court three before Baljon recorded a win in the first slot to round out her day. Capute clinched her match with a 6-2, 6-4 outcome to tally the decisive fifth win of the match and send the Ephs to the NESCAC finals.

Though Amherst received the automatic conference bid to the NCAA championship with Sunday’s win, Swain and her squad are confident that the team can add a third NCAA title to its string of victories. NCAA play will commence at Williams on Saturday, when the women, who received a first-round bye, will face the winner of the Ithaca-Wheaton match, which will be played Friday night in Williamstown.

“The announcement that we will be hosting definitely energized us,” Swain said. “We definitely feel like we have some work to do after Sunday’s loss, but remain confident in our team’s ability to compete with the top schools in the country.”

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