Women’s tennis sets sights on nation’s top competition

After finishing fourth at NCAAs a season ago, Chicago has high hopes for the 2010 season, a year they hope ends with the school’s first NCAA team title.

By Matt Tyndale

Following the most successful season in team history, the women’s tennis team enters their 2010 campaign ranked fourth in the ITA Coaches Poll. And they are not content to rest on their laurels.

After a close third place finish in the UAA tournament last season, where Chicago lost a close match 5–4 to eventual UAA Champions Emory in the semi-final round, the Maroons breezed through the NCAA tournament until losing another close match 5–4 to Amherst, again in the semi-finals, which set up a rematch with the Eagles. Unfortunately, the Eagles again prevailed, and the Maroons finished a strong fourth, the best NCAA finish in school history.

“We want to play Emory again; we’re hungry to play Emory again,” second-year Kendra Higgins said. “We want that little piece of revenge of Emory.”

The Eagles defeated the Maroons three times in all last season. Still, the team has bigger aspirations than vengeance against conference rivals.

“Our main focus is to win a National Championship,” Higgins said. “Last year we didn’t know what to expect; now we’re motivated because we know what to expect. We showed what we’re made of we know what we have to do to win a National Championship.”

And the Maroons definitely have the firepower to make a serious run for a title. The Maroons return three All-Americans with Higgins in both singles and doubles, second-year Jennifer Kung in singles, and third-year Chrissy Hu in doubles. Higgins and Hu are also the reigning NCAA Individual Champions in doubles play.

In addition, the Maroons field returning five All-UAA players with Higgins (first-team singles and doubles), Hu (first-team doubles/second-team singles), Kung (second-team singles), and second-years Tiffany Nguyen and Carmen VacaGuzman (first-team doubles).

With most of last year’s core returning—Vindya Dayananda was Chicago’s only senior a season ago—the Maroons have also added a pair of first-years in Linden Li and Shenelle Trail. Li jumped into the fourth singles spot in the South Siders’ only fall season match against Olivet, while Trail notched a win at six singles.

After facing three D-I teams to start the season, the Maroons’ first D-III test will come against 14th-ranked Wash U, last year’s fourth-place finisher in the UAA. In all, Chicago will face six ranked opponents during the regular season, highlighted by a March 26 clash with second-ranked Williams, the two-time reigning NCAA Champions.

But for a team that places special emphasis on approaching each match the same as the next, tomorrow’s opener in Aurora against D-I foe Northern Illinois will give Chicago its first taste of tough competition as it begins its journey toward NCAAs.