Eyes on the prize: Women’s tennis heads to UAAs

The women look forward to the UAA championships this weekend. Their primary competition is Emory, a team they’ve struggled with recently.

By Jake Grubman

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The women’s tennis team will have the chance to break two trends this weekend at the UAA Championships: Emory’s decades-long grasp on the conference title and a nagging losing streak to the same Eagles squad.

By most accounts, the Chicago and Emory teams have much in common.

They are the top two teams in the UAA and two of the top four in the country, and both are widely considered to be contenders for the national title. They finished third and fourth at last year’s NCAA’s, and members of both teams laid claim to the singles and doubles titles.

Heading into this weekend’s UAA Championships, however, one difference stands out. Emory has won the UAA title every season in the conference’s 22-year existence; Chicago has never finished better than third.

This year, second-year Kendra Higgins and company are looking to change that trend.

“It would mean a lot [to win],” Higgins said. “It’s one step closer to the national championship.”

The two teams, with Emory ranked first and Chicago second, stand at opposite ends of the eight-team bracket. Similar circumstances set up their only other meeting this year when the Eagles triumphed 6–3 to win the ITA Indoor Championship in March.

That match was the latest installment of a series of matches that has pitted Emory and Chicago against each other four times over the past two seasons. Over that time, the Eagles have beaten the Maroons on nearly every stage of competition: a regular-season match in March of last year, last year’s UAA semifinals, and the third-place match of last year’s NCAA tournament, as well as the latest clash at Indoors.

“It’s definitely been close, really close, down to wire,” Emory head coach Amy Bryant said. “It’s great that we’ve been able to pull out these tight matches, but…if we blink, the match could be over in the wrong direction.”

Chicago has been the team headed in the right direction over the past few weeks. The Maroons enter this weekend having won seven consecutive matches, including key victories over Gustavus Adolphus and Denison. Once ranked second in the country on the strength of 14 straight D-III wins to start the season, the Eagles have stumbled of late, falling to Washington & Lee and Williams in the Fab Five Tournament at the end of March.

“We were really disappointed with the way we played in those matches,” Bryant said. “We definitely feel like we should have beaten one of those teams and had the ability to beat the other, but it was a good eye-opener for us for sure, that we can’t rest on our laurels and have to keep the intensity up 100 percent.”

Past results aside, the Maroons and Eagles each have championship potential based on the talent that fills both rosters.

Bryant emphasized the importance of doubles play coming into this weekend. On the season, Chicago has gone 44–13, although Emory took two of three doubles matches the last time the teams met. For Chicago, Higgins and third-year Chrissy Hu, the defending national champions, have gone 15–3 at first doubles, while Emory’s Tshema Nash and Sabra Rogers have anchored the Eagles with a 10–4 record at the second spot.

In singles, the bottom half of the Eagles’ lineup could decide the match. Emory has lost just seven matches in the fourth, fifth, and sixth singles spots. The top three spots get more cloudy, highlighted by a burgeoning rivalry between Higgins and reigning national champ Lorne McManigle in the first singles spot.

“Essentially both teams have number-one players at one, two, and three,” Bryant said.

Becoming more and more familiar with each other’s play, the Maroons and Eagles have come to appreciate each other, even with a lopsided record over the past two seasons.

“They respect our play, and we respect theirs,” Higgins said. “It’s just whoever’s better this weekend is going to win.”