Upperclassmen help women’s tennis climb to new heights

By Tim Murphy

Women’s tennis has proved this season that it can play with anyone. After tearing through the dual-match season, the Maroons will get a shot against the region’s best.

Looking to continue their regular season success, the 19th-ranked Maroons (12–4) will take on 20th-ranked UW–La Crosse (15–2) in the opening round of the Midwest Invite in Madison Saturday. Seeded fifth in the 12-team field, Chicago is positioned to make a deep run if it can avenge an early-season defeat and take care of business against some familiar foes. The team has played five of the other teams in the field already this season, with wins against Luther, Albion, Wash U, and Carthage. The lone loss came at the hands of fourth seeded Denison 5–2, February 12.

Building upon last season’s 13–8 campaign with the addition of a stellar recruiting class, the Maroons are primed for their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. While the Maroons’ young guns get much of the credit for the squad’s success, the hot streak would be nothing but a pipe dream without the contributions of the team’s upperclassmen. With their experience and skills, fourth-year Annie Miller and third-year Ade Omodele-Lucien have provided the backbone as the program has stirred to life.

“They pretty much bring the team together. They push us when we do drills, and it motivates us,” said first-year Alice Williams, who has earned an individual record of 14–4 on the season while playing mostly in fourth spot.

After seeing limited playing time her first year, Miller has developed as a player each season so that she is now the team’s most dependable athlete. In 21 singles matches, she has totaled a team-best 17–4 record. Playing mostly at fifth, she has strung together 10 straight victories dating back to mid-February. Nine of those victories came in straight sets.

“She was first her first year, second her second year, and third last year. She’s in fifth now and I think that fits what kind of player she is,” Perry said. “She’s extremely consistent and very hard to beat. She keeps a lot of balls in play. Annie can dictate the game if she needs to; she knows what to do win. Her forehand and backhand are both weapons.”

Playing time has never been an issue for Omodele-Lucien. As the team’s first singles player in each of her first two years, the Californian played well but struggled to convert victories, entering this season with a career record of 20–21. The addition of regionally eighth-ranked Vindya Dayananda to the squad allowed Omodele-Lucien to shift to second. The move, along with her continued progress in learning the finer points of the game, has been a blessing. After dropping three of her first four contests this spring, she has won five of seven to bring her record to 9–8. She is currently ranked 22nd in the Central region. Dayanda, who has a 13–8 record on the year, is currently ranked eighth.

“Ade was right away put in an environment that forced her to be on her game every match, and I think that has helped her the most,” Perry said. She has a lot of weapons—strong serve, her volleys have improved, her doubles have improved. The move to second has given her confidence.”

“If I play next to Ade, she’ll give me a fist pump to get going,” Williams said. “She and Annie can tell us a little bit about some of the teams we play that they’ve faced before.”

The mix of youth and experience can sometimes be inharmonious, but with both youngsters and veterans accepting the team’s new direction Chicago has clearly been able to take advantage of the blend. Nowhere has that been more evident than in doubles play. At the first spot, the daunting regionally 12th-ranked duo of Omodele-Lucien and Dayananda has been remarkable. The pair has a record of 17–4 on the year, with their last loss coming against Carthage’s duo of third-years Elizca Buys and Amanda Sta Romana, then regionally second-second ranked and now regionally third-ranked, on February 25. Miller has teamed up with first-year Preetha Rajamani, forming a duo that has meshed at the hands of their opponents. Their record at third stands at an impressive 10–3, with a 12–4 mark overall.

“Vindya and Ade have really drawn into a really good team,” Perry said. “They have a lot of talent and have the ability to end points. They move pretty relentlessly at the net. Annie and Preetha complement each other. Annie is the consistent returner and setup. They both have good serves, are good on the baseline, and have good volleys.”

Not to be overlooked, fourth-year captain Katie Dulmage (3–5) has played an important role as well, stepping in whenever she is needed at sixth singles, where she has a 2–1 record, and doubles, where she is 2–1 with Miller, 0–2 with Rajamani, and 0–1 with Dayananda.

The upperclassmen will need to be on their game for the Maroons to thrive in Madison. UW–La Crosse returns five starters from the team that clobbered the Maroons 7–2 last season in Wisconsin and has dominated opponents this year. The Eagles are led by third-year Angie Riedel, who has compiled a 25–3 record.

“They are probably the best unseeded team at the tournament,” Perry said. “They have a very good one and two. We’re pretty confident. We’re going in trying to win it.”

If the Maroons advance to the second round, they will face fourth-seeded 15th-ranked Denison (5–5), a team that beat them 5–2 February 12. The loss dropped Chicago’s record to 0–3. Since then, they have only lost to fourth-ranked Middlebury in a 6-–3 brawl at Hilton Head March 22.

If the Maroons can continue playing like they have over the past two months, the Midwest Invite championship could be within their reach. A deep run this weekend will set the tone for the UAA championships in two weeks and the NCAA tournament in May.

“We’re playing at a high level right now,” Williams said. “But when we get to those tournaments, I think we can take it to another level.”