Women’s tennis shines at 1st Williams Invitational

Women’s tennis kicked off its fall season last weekend, hosting the first ever Williams Invitational Tournament. The women were joined by Middlebury, Vassar and Skidmore. The tournament is designed not to have elimination rounds so that each player gets as much participation time as possible, competing in four rounds of singles play and three rounds of doubles play. Due to the nature of its organization, there was no tournament champion at the end of Sunday’s play. However, Williams earned the most wins overall, going 21-1 in singles and 9-1 in doubles play on Saturday and 21-0 in singles and 1-2 in doubles Sunday.

“The benefit of the tournament was that each player gained experience and homed in on what they each need to work on individually in their games to reach their fall goals,” Head Coach Alison Swain said of the team’s weekend. “It also helped prepare us for the ITA Tournament next weekend, which is the most important individual tournament we play all year.” Unlike the Williams Invitational, the ITA Tournament will have a champion. Last year, Kristin Alotta ’12 took the singles title, while the team of Grace Baljon ’10 and Taylor French ’12 fell just short of an overall win in the doubles finals.

While the invitational did not have a champion, all of the individual matches in both the doubles and singles draws did count toward each player’s results and records for the year. As a result, performance still mattered last weekend, both for the women in getting their records off to a strong start and from the perspective of placement on the team, as Swain used the tournament to help her determine the team’s strengths, individually and as a whole. With nearly every player on the team taking each of her Saturday matches, save Alotta and Nikki Reich ’11 in their ‘A’ flight match in doubles and French in her ‘C’ flight match in singles, and with the team sweeping singles Sunday, Swain said she was “very pleased with everyone’s play at this very early point in our competitive year.”

New additions to the team Kathleen Elkins ’14, Kara Shoemaker ’14 and Lindsay Thygesen ’14 proved themselves ready to aid the Ephs in a competitive season, gaining valuable experience in the low-pressure setting of the tournament.

“The first-years have come in and contributed already,” Swain said of the rookies. “All three players have demonstrated that their level of play is very much on par with the rest of our team, and I have no doubt that they will contribute to our program over the course of the year ahead.”

Moving forward, Swain said the team hopes to use its brief fall season to solidify the basics of each player’s game, in both singles and doubles. Alotta, as a strong returning player, should continue to prove a singles powerhouse for the Ephs, along with Reich, Lucy Marchese ’11 and Katie Friedman ’11. During last spring’s NCAA tournament, Nancy Worley ’13 notched the final singles point that pushed her team into the quarterfinals. Her skill, along with that of fellow sophomore Veranika Li ’13, will prove essential again as the team plays for what could be its fourth consecutive national title next spring.

French, unique in that she almost entirely competes in doubles play, was named the Player to Watch last season by the ITA, and her doubles experience should help to bolster the team after losing her doubles partner and its No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles player, Baljon, to graduation last June. The team’s No. 2 doubles combination last year, Alotta and Reich, and No. 3 duo Marchese and Caroline Capute ’12 will no doubt continue to carry the team’s doubles play in the ITA tournament next weekend, as well as into the spring season.

“We focus on small improvements as a way to achieve our team goals for the year ahead,” Swain said of the team’s strategy moving forward through the season.

The ITA Tournament will take place at two venues, Babson College and Wellesley College, next weekend from Friday until Sunday, with play beginning at 9 a.m. each day. The ITA tournament is one of the most crucial competitions in the women’s fall season, which will continue through early October.