The women’s tennis team (9–3) embarked on their most difficult road trip of the season last week, traveling through South Carolina and Georgia to face some of the nation’s premiere D-III competition.
And at week’s end, the team’s spring break record was nearly unblemished, winning four out of five matches, with the only loss suffered coming at the hands of UAA powerhouse Emory, which is now ranked fourth in the nation.
The week started off light for the fifth-ranked Maroons, who took on a mediocre Carleton squad (9–3) in Hilton Head on Tuesday. While the dominating 9–0 decision was lopsided, it was not unexpected, considering the Maroons’ preparation prior to the start of the trip.
“Our team has been training hard throughout the season to make sure that we would be ready for these big matches,” said first-year Jennifer Kung. “We were also fortunate because the nice weather during finals week allowed us to practice outside, making the transition to outdoor matches a lot easier.”
Things got more difficult when the Maroons played 16th-ranked Depauw (8–7) the following day. Even though the Tigers posted a respectable showing, they still fell to the Maroons 6–3.
“We were very confident heading into all of our matches, including those against highly ranked opponents,” Kung said.
In the second half of the weeklong road trip, Chicago traveled to Atlanta, where the team barreled its way to two more victories. The Maroons defeated 13th-ranked Middlebury (5–5) 5–3 and ninth-ranked Mary Washington (8–7) 5–2 on successive days, setting up a much-anticipated showdown with UAA rival Emory Sunday afternoon.
The then seventh-ranked Eagles (12–3) put an end to Chicago’s eight-match win streak in a 5–4 thriller. The Maroons trailed 2–1 after the doubles competition, and the the hometown Eagles won three of six in singles, putting the kibosh on any possibility of a Chicago comeback.
“Emory always has a very strong team,” Kung said. “We certainly weren’t playing as well as we could have…but we had our chances to win.”
The loss is a difficult one to swallow for the Maroons for several reasons. The defeat came at the hands of a UAA foe, one that may haunt the team when the conference championship tournament rolls around.
As it stands, the UAA boasts four top-12 teams in the most recent Campbell/ITA College Tennis rankings, with third-ranked Carnegie and 12th-ranked Washington joining Emory and Chicago at the top of the list. The Maroons are now left to wonder what could have been had they won against Emory to complete a perfect spring break tour. The Eagles seized Chicago’s fourth spot in the rankings days after the match, and the Maroons dropped to the five spot.
Kung, one of the team’s most talented players in only her first year of play, has been struggling as of late. She has dropped seven of 11 matches in singles competition, 10 of which were played at the number one slot, dating back to a loss at Illinois-Chicago on January 24.
Despite that, Kung, along with fourth-year partner Vindya Dayananda, has been dominant in doubles competition at the number two slot, going 8–1 in her last nine, dropping only a heartbreaker 8–9 at Emory.
“I’ve had tough opponents but I still feel like I should be able to beat them,” Kung said. “Because of my great results earlier in the year, I sometimes put a lot of pressure on myself to do well.”
In an attempt to snap Kung out of her slump, head coach Marty Perry used Kung in the second slot of singles play at Emory. While the move did not win Kung the match, it allowed her to battle through, and nearly out of, a 6–0, 2–0 hole.
“The way I played during the latter part of the second set was reminiscent of the high level of play I had before,” Kung said. “I feel like I did make a lot of progress in the right direction.”
At Emory, Kung’s replacement in the number one singles slot was first-year Kendra Higgins, who has been on a recent tear that remained intact in Atlanta. In addition to going 7–0 dating back to a win at Kenyon College on February 14, Higgins was named UAA Athlete of the Week for her outstanding efforts during Chicago’s spring tour.
Joining Kung and Higgins, who hold a combined 30-12 record at the first and second slots in singles competition, is first-year Carmen VacaGuzman, whose impressive 17–3 singles record in the third slot is due in large part to her current nine-match winning streak.
On Friday, the Maroons will head to the Midwest Invitational, looking to build on their spring success as they eye the UAA Championship tournament at Brandeis beginning April 24.
“For the rest of the season, we just want to focus on one match at a time and keep fighting like we’ve been doing all year,” Kung said. “Our team would love to face Emory at UAA’s because we believe we can definitely beat them next time around.”