In the Red: Women’s tennis sees NCAA chances slip

By Joe Katz

With an agonizingly close loss to open the Midwest Invite, women’s tennis lost the opportunity to get some statement victories, but the squad managed to follow one step back with two steps forward.

Against a tough field at Madison, the 24th-ranked Maroons (8–6) were knocked around in the lower singles matches and ended up falling 5–4 to 25th-ranked Carthage (16–4) in the first round of the tournament. Relegated to the consolation bracket, Chicago lashed out for two mercifully shortened victories en route to a fifth-place finish. Carleton (11–6) fell 5–1 in the face of the squad’s wrath, and regionally 10th-ranked Wash U (6–7) found themselves on the receiving end of a 6–0 throttling, their second whitewashing by the Maroons this year.

With only two opponents standing between the South Siders and the UAAs coming up April 20–22, the team is rapidly running out of time to shore up its postseason résumé. Though they carry a 7–2 in-region record, there are only seven at-large berths available under the new playoff system, and the Maroons could have greatly bolstered their case for one with shots at third-ranked DePauw (14–1), 12th-ranked Gustavus Adolphus (15–5), or 13th-ranked Denison (10–4).

“I think we became a better team over the weekend, and I think we’ve got a chance to do well in the UAA tournament because of that,” head coach Marty Perry said. “But if we did beat Carthage, and we got one more win, I think we would have been in. Realistically, we probably have to win UAAs now.”

As the tandems got underway against Carthage, it looked like Chicago might just get their chance to bear down against the big-time teams. The regionally 14th-ranked pair of fourth-year Ade Omodele-Lucien and second-year Anuja Parikh (13–4) easily held off their regionally 15th-ranked foes at 8–2 at second, and first-year Justine Kentla and third-year Michele Parad (7–7) scored an 8–4 triumph at third.

Unfortunately, the grudge match between the Central’s number-two doubles team and the Maroons’ regionally fifth-ranked second-year Vindya Dayananda and first-year Marissa Lin (10–7) turned in favor of the Redmen 9–7. That lost point would later make all the difference.

“We were up the whole match. They were serving 4–6, and we had five or six break points during that game. We would have been serving 7–4 for the match if we had gotten one of those,” Perry said. “We only missed one return. We did everything we could.”

Lin (14–5) cruised to 6–3, 6–4 at first, and Dayananda (13–6) slammed her way to a 6–1, 6–2 victory at second, but that was all she wrote for the Maroons. For just the second time this year against a DIII opponent, the usually deep Maroons did not at least tie their opponents in the bottom four singles matches, with Omodele-Lucien (6–9), Parikh (6–8), Parad (9–6), and Kentla (6–7) all going down in straight sets.

“Bad days happen. The last time we beat Carthage it was only by one match, so it was no walk in a park,” Omodele-Lucien said.

The consolation games didn’t give Parikh, Parad, and Kentla a chance to redeem themselves at singles, but they didn’t have many complaints as the Maroons locked it up against the Knights and Bears alike.

In partners play against Carleton, Omodele-Lucien and Parikh needed to go the extra mile for a 9–8 (7–3) tiebreaker win at second doubles, and Kentla and Parad fell 8–6 at third. Dayananda and Lin helped the team gain momentum when they bagged an 8–2 decision before yawning their way through a Knights lineup with some force behind it. Despite facing opponents with a combined record of 32–25, Lin romped her opponent 6–0, 6–0, and both Dayananda and Omodele-Lucien won in straight sets 6–3, 6–2.

“We came together after that bad loss…. I think it was a reality check, that no matter what, you have to fight your hardest. I know that’s how I felt,” Omodele-Lucien said. “In singles we were able to nullify their serves, and our consistency came to the fore.”

With a fifth-place finish at stake, Chicago faced a familiar opponent in league rival Wash U, looking for redemption after a 9–0 walloping by the Maroons at Bally’s February 24. The South Siders were looking to prove there was a reason that blowout happened in the first place, and at the end of the day, it was Wash U that had not found what it was looking for.

Fourth-year Erin Fleming and second-year Ania Tchergueiko (7–6) kept it close at first doubles, but Dayananda and Lin closed it out 8–6, while Omodele-Lucien and Parikh made mincemeat of their foes with an 8–0 shutout.

Tchergueiko (4–8) did St. Louis proud again at third singles, bouncing back after Omodele-Lucien handled her 6–0 in the first set to go 7–5 and force the tiebreaker. But it was too little too late, and the Chicago fourth-year won the third set 1–0 (12–10) to secure the sweep.

The squad will make up its April 3 rainout with 22nd-ranked Wheaton (16–0) this afternoon. With the Thunder just ahead of Chicago in the national rankings and one spot behind in the regional poll, this match will be critical to both teams’ playoff chances.