It may be a young squad, but there’s no question after this winter’s strong start that women’s tennis is ready to pick up where it left off last spring.
With their latest weekend sweep, the 14th-ranked Maroons lifted their record to 5–2 and extended their winning streak to four matches. Chicago’s recent domination on the court has made clear that this team is stronger and deeper than last year’s NCAA qualifiers, with a fierce one-two punch at the top of the lineup and steady competition the rest of the way down.
“We’re probably better at each position this year,” head coach Marty Perry said. “I think overall we’re a better team this year. I think we’ve yet to play our best tennis.”
Starting the weekend hosting 25th-ranked Carthage (10–2, 5–1 CCIW), the Maroons scored a close call against the Lady Reds, coming from behind after partners play to eek out the 5–4 victory Saturday. An 8–6 decision in favor of fourth-year Ade Omodele-Lucien and second-year Anuja Parikh at the two spot ended up swinging the night in Chicago’s favor.
Slightly overmatched in tandems play, Omodele-Lucien and Parikh notched Chicago’s lone victory in doubles action. The pair trailed 5–2 to first-year Gina Klein and fourth-year Kristin Minkowski before a comeback that set the squad back on track. After this weekend, the pair improved their season mark to 7–3, taking their last four decisions and matching the first doubles duo of second-year Vindya Dayananda and first-year Marissa Lin for the team’s best record.
Even with the spark from Omodele-Lucien and Parikh, the Maroons still had a ways to go in solo competition before they could pull this one away from the Carthaginians. Despite solid wins by Lin (9–3) and Parikh (5–4), a 6–3, 6–2 straight set loss by Dayananda (8–4) at first singles and a tough 4–6, 6–3, 6–4 defeat by Omodele-Lucien (3–5) at fourth left Chicago down by two.
That put third-year Michelle Parad and first-year Justine Kentla at fifth and sixth singles in the pressure spots. Knowing that a team victory hinged on their matches, Parad and Kentla both delivered a quick 6–1, 6–2 decision, giving the Maroons the final edge over the Lady Reds.
“We needed both of them to win, and they went out and played exceptionally,” Perry said. “They handled it with a lot of confidence and a lot of strength and came through for us.”
After the late-night cliffhanger with Carthage, the South Siders hit the road early Sunday morning for the three-hour bus ride to take on Albion (0–2). The squad turned in even stronger tennis against the Britons with a 7–2 squashing of their hosts.
“I think the rankings really don’t matter,” Perry said. “It really depends on the effort of your team that particular night. I think if we go out and play hard and everyone does what they can do to put themselves in position to win, I feel that we’re one of the better teams in the country.”
Facing a revamped Albion roster, the Maroons returned with just one change from Saturday’s lineup to earn five straight set victories in singles showdowns and two convincing wins in doubles competition. Chicago’s sole lineup shuffle for the day moved Dayananda down a slot into second singles with Lin taking over in the top spot, a rotation that the team has used repeatedly throughout the season. The fact that the squad can bump last year’s All-American from first and put in the latest rookie phenom is just one of the signs of the depth of the Maroons’ talent in 2007.
“Both of them were semi-finalists at the regional tournament, and both of them are very strong players. I think either one can play one and either one makes an incredibly strong two,” Perry said. “Each of girls feels that they can go out and that they should win at their position, and I don’t think we had that last year.”
From here, the South Siders will take a two-week break from competition for reading period and finals before packing up for a training trip to Florida over spring break. When the squad returns from squaring off against DI and DII opponents and finishes readjusting to playing outside, it will kick off its drive for a UAA title and an NCAA bid against the 22nd-ranked Wheaton Thunder (2–0) April 3.