In their first D-III matches since last season’s NCAA tournament, the fourth-ranked women’s tennis team picked up right where they left off.
After cruising past Case (5–3) by an 8–1 margin on Saturday, the Maroons scored a convincing 8–1 victory over 15th-ranked Wash U (1–1) Sunday.
“I think the whole team, we’re playing really well,” second-year Kendra Higgins said. “We’ve got a couple of big goals in sight…. [Getting] past these two big rivals really shows how we’re going to do in the future.”
Having graduated one player from last season—former all-American Vindya Dayananda—the Maroons flexed their muscles Sunday morning by beating the Bears by the same margin as they did in the UAA tournament last season.
“This year there are a lot of people gunning for us,” Higgins said. “This weekend shows that we’re not letting the pressure get to us. We’re still playing our game, still reaching for our goal; our goal is just a step higher this year. It shows if you’re going to beat us, you really have to beat us.”
After finishing last in the conference a season ago, Case came to town Saturday as a team on the rise. The Spartans have already more than doubled their win total from last year, when they finished 2–16 overall, but the Maroons’ lineup overwhelmed Case from the beginning.
The Case match was a warm-up for the Maroons’ first big test of the season as rival Wash U came to town Sunday. Chicago was sluggish early on, forcing the South Siders to fight back from deficits in all of the doubles matches.
“We had some slow starts in pretty much both matches—against Case and Wash U—but we were able to finish off and go 6–0 in doubles against both teams,” head coach Marty Perry said, citing an issue that has hurt Chicago at times already this season. “We need to work on how we start matches; that’s something we’re focusing on for team indoors.”
After taking a 3–0 lead over the Bears in doubles, the Maroons cruised in singles, picking up all five of their victories in straight sets. Higgins, who has been overpowering since finishing second at the ITA Championships in the fall, won her fifth consecutive match with a two-set victory at the first singles spot.
It was a strong start to the D-III schedule for a team with national title hopes, but the Maroons will look to take the next step when they head to the ITA Indoor Championships February 26. For Perry, the biggest challenge for Chicago at this point in the season is maintaining the confidence that brought the team to a fourth-place finish at last year’s NCAAs.
“We’re handling a little more pressure [than last year],” he said. “Now you have the ‘What if? What if we play poorly? We may lose.’ Last year, everyone was new; we played without fear. Now, we have to be able go out and play with confidence and not think about the consequences, just approach it like we did last year.”