Thunderstruck women’s tennis ends remarkable run in regionals

By Kate Fratar

When rookies make up almost half of a team’s roster, it’s usually a rebuilding year. Women’s tennis spent the 2005–2006 season bucking that stereotype.

“We were so young that we really didn’t have any expectations,” head coach Marty Perry said. “I knew that we would be improved, but I didn’t know how much we would improve.”

Showing both how far they have come and how much potential they have, the 15th-ranked Maroons (15–9) capped off a breakout year by with a trip to St. Peter, Minnesota for the regional rounds of the NCAA tournament. In a rematch with 13th-ranked Wheaton (19–3), the South Siders fell 5–3 to the Thunder in the first round Friday, ending a long season.

With play starting back in October, women’s tennis ran a little longer in Hyde Park than usual, as the squad became the first in program history to reach nationals.

“At the beginning we started out thinking about one match at a time. We didn’t start out with any big expectations of going to nationals,” first-year Vindya Dayananda said. “We wanted to win a lot more dual matches. I guess we’ve accomplished everything we hoped to accomplish and even more.”

The day seemed to hold promise for Chicago in the early going, as the squad won two of three doubles matches for the early lead. The old reliable pairing of Dayananda and third-year Ade Omodele-Lucien (21–8) and the newer duo of fourth-year Annie Miller and second-year Michele Parad (3–4) gave the Maroons the early lift, bringing in victories at first and third.

Heading into St. Peter, the tertiary tandem had more than limited time on the courts together working against them. Parad had to fight off shoulder tendonitis that had sidelined her a week and threatened to keep her in Hyde Park. They overcame both hurdles, proving too hot for Wheaton’s normally lethal combo of second-year Shannon Hale and fourth-year Leah Moberg (19–5) to handle. The pair jumped out to an early lead and held it, cruising to an 8–3 pounding.

After a tough battle at first, the regionally seventh-ranked Dayananda and Omodele-Lucien managed to get the best of the region’s fourth-ranked partners fourth-year Elizabeth Maclellan and first-year Jordan Hook (21–5). The Maroons clawed their way back into the match, breaking Wheaton’s serve for the match at 7–5 to push it to a tiebreaker. Taking an early jump in the sudden death showdown, the dynamic duo completed the comeback effort with a 9–8 (7–3) victory.

Unfortunately, after serving up aces in doubles, the Maroons struggled in singles play. Chicago couldn’t build on its strong showing in pairs play, with only one South Sider pulling out a win.

With the teams’ ranked athletes ready to face off at first and second singles, regionally second-ranked Dayananda (19–10) and regionally 25th-ranked Omodele-Lucien (11–13) got their second shots at the Central’s number three fourth-year Elizabeth Maclellan (24–3) and fourth-ranked first-year Jordan Hook (26–0) after meeting the Thunder at the net for the first time at the Midwest Invite April 8. In their rematches, Dayananda had hoped to shutdown Maclellan once again after a 7–6, 6–3 victory last month while Omodele-Lucien was looking to avenge a 6–0, 6–0 slamming from Hook.

Revenge, sadly, proved to be a dish never served. Struggling in their singles showdowns, the rookie went down in a 6–3, 6–4 straight set to Maclellan while Omodele-Lucien had trouble executing her game plan against Hook. Failing to keep the ball deep and her opponent working from behind the baseline, the third-year dropped the opener 6–0 but battled back to avoid another shutout with the 6–2 loss in the second set.

“They were definitely keeping more balls in play,” Dayananda said. “For me at least, I felt like my girl was grinding harder than I was.”

With fourth-year Katie Dulmage (3–6) putting up a valiant effort at sixth, she was the only Maroon to push her match to the third set before falling 6–0, 4–6, 6–2 to first-year Brittney Dunn (19–5). The defeat ended up deciding the match, leaving first-year Anuja Parikh’s (20–7) bout against third-year Karly Olson (21–8) unfinished at 0–6, 7–5.

“Everyone was working really hard, but we just were not on top of our game in singles that day,” Dayananda said.

The one Maroon to pull out the win in solo play, fourth-year Annie Miller (22–6) made the most of her final appearance in a Chicago uniform with a hard fought battle with second-year Shannon Hale (19–4). The veteran clung to a narrow lead the entire way in the longest match of the day, squeaking by with a straight set 6–4, 6–3 edging at fifth singles.

With the loss to Wheaton drawing an early curtain on their postseason run, the Maroons’ long year has come to close. It will not be soon forgotten. Chicago has set a high bar for next season after posting a 109–68 mark in singles play and 63–33 in doubles. In regional matchups, the squad has gone 11–13 in solo efforts and 8–5 in pairs.

“I judge first on the effort and the effort was always there,” Perry said. “This team fought harder than any team I’ve ever been associated with, and I’ve heard that from everyone that has watched us play.”

Dayananda will get a chance to go out on a slightly better note, as she’ll head to the Golden State May 20–22 for the national singles tournament.