Top teams put women’s tennis to the test at invite

By Kate Fratar

With the season drawing to a close, it’s crunch time for women’s tennis.

Getting a taste of the level of competition they will face at UAAs, the 19th-ranked Maroons (14–6) earned a weekend split against four nationally-ranked squads to come home with a fourth-place finish at the Midwest Invite. Chicago took down 20th-ranked University of Wisconsin–La Crosse (15–2) 7–2 and 15th-ranked Denison (10–6) 6–3 Friday before dropping to fourth-ranked Gustavus Adolphus (19–4) 5–3 and 18th-ranked Wheaton (18–1) 5–4 Saturday. Putting the rest of the region on notice that she will be a force to be reckoned in years to come, regionally eighth-ranked first-year Vindya Dayananda (17–8) completed a sweep of her singles matches.

Coming off of dominating outings against Coe (13–9) and Wash U (10–7) last weekend, the fifth-seeded Maroons arrived in Madison prepared to control the court on Friday. They continued to burn everything they touched, combining to go 5–1 in doubles play and 8–4 in singles.

“We don’t really prepare differently for any match,” head coach Marty Perry said. “We just want to be mentally sharp and ready.”

Opening the day against Wisconsin–La Crosse, Chicago recorded solid victories at first and second doubles before snatching five of six at singles. At first, the regionally 12th-ranked combo of Dayananda and third-year Ade Omodele-Lucien bested the regionally 11th-ranked pairing of third-year Angie Riedel and fourth-year Erica Schmelzer 8-–3. First-years Anuja Parikh and Alice Williams nailed an 8–0 shutout against fourth-year Louie Dbuinski and third-year Julie Tellefsen at second. In singles play, the Maroons made quick work of the Eagles, winning each of their matches in straight sets. Dayananda came through with flying colors against the regionally 13th-ranked Riedel (25–3) at first 6–2, 6–1 to set the tone. Omodele-Lucien (10–11) also defended her 22nd-place standing in the regional rankings with a 6–1, 7–5 win over Schmelzer (22–5) at second. Parikh (18–7) grabbed a win at third, while Williams (16–6) and Miller (19–6) earned points at fifth and sixth.

“We lost to them last year in the fall, and we knew that they would be pretty good at first and second but other than that we weren’t really sure what to expect,” Perry said.

A sweep at doubles followed by a split at singles in the Denison match secured a 6–3 victory that advanced the Maroons into Saturday’s semifinals. Dayananda and Omodele-Lucien struck once again with an 8–5 edging of the Big Red’s regionally ninth-ranked tandem of fourth-year Erin Coughlin and first-year Kendra Murray. Hanging on in a tiebreaker at second doubles, Parikh and Williams come out on top 9–8 against second-year Sarah Mitchiner and first-year Carly Newman. At third, second-year Michele Parad was able to take the court with partner fourth-year Annie Miller despite being hampered by a pulled abdomen muscle for an 8–4 blasting of first-year Whitney Block and second-year Erin Gorisch.

While Omodele-Lucien fell at second to regionally 18th-ranked first-year Meghan Damico (15–1) 7–5, 6–1, Dayananda whipped regionally 15th-ranked Murray (4–12) 6–1, 6–1 at first to join Parikh at third and Miller at sixth as winners.

“We fought really hard,” Perry said. “Denison beat us earlier in the year, and everyone was fired up going into that match.”

In a sharp contrast to Friday’s performances, the Maroons struggled to find their footing in the early going Saturday. Going up against two-time defending tourney champion Gustavus Adolphus, the usually stellar tandems for Chicago went down 8–2 and 8–0 at first and second against the top two doubles pairs in the region, while the third match was unfinished. Faced with a two-point deficit entering singles competition, the team was unable to complete the comeback against the Central’s top team. Dayananda earned a win against regionally third-ranked third-year Lauren Hom (8–8) 3–6, 6–4, 10–2 at first, while Parikh iced 11th-ranked third-year Jaime Gaard (8–6) 6–1, 6–7, 10–4 at third. Williams grabbed her match at fifth 6–3, 6–2 against fourth-year Marla Menne (10–5), but it wasn’t enough as Omodele-Lucien fell 6–3, 6–0 to regionally 10th-ranked fourth-year Tara Houlihan (10–5) at second and Parad and Miller both went down, with the latter losing 6–4, 4–6, 12–10 to second-year Jenni White (6–2).

Playing for third against Wheaton, the Maroons ultimately fell short again. Parikh and Williams raked in the team’s only point in doubles with an 8–2 shutdown of third-year Karly Olson and second-year Brooke Parrish. Again finding new life in singles, Chicago nailed three straight set victories from Dayananda 7–6, 6–3 at first, Parikh 6–4, 6–0 at third, and Parad 6–2, 6–1 at fourth, but the Thunder slipped past the South Siders with the aid of regionally fifth-ranked first-year Jordan Hook’s (24–0) 6–0, 6–0 win over Omodele-Lucien at second, a loss by Williams at fifth, and first-year Brittney Dunn’s (18–3) 3–6, 6–2, 1–0 backbreaker at sixth over Miller.

“We had a shot to win it, but just weren’t able to pull it together as a team,” Perry said.

The squad has this weekend to prepare for the league championships in Atlanta April 21–23. The Maroons have proved that they have the talent to win the league this year after posting a 14–6 record, a 100–56 mark at singles, and a 57–27 showing at doubles. With matches scheduled all day, the battle for the UAA will be a test of endurance.

“I think we’ve become a much better team since the beginning of the year,” Perry said. “It’s going to be tough, and we’re going to have to play good tennis, but our goal is to go in there and win the tournament.”