Women’s tennis disrupts Central region balance of power with sweep of ranked teams

By Tim Murphy

After a slow start to the season, women’s tennis got back to .500 in a hurry.

The Maroons upset a pair of nationally-ranked squads on the road to solidify their status as a regional contender, trouncing 22nd-ranked Luther 8–1 in Clinton, IA Saturday and holding on to beat 29th-ranked Albion 5–4 Sunday in Albion, MI. The victories evened the team’s record on the year to 3–3 after an 0–3 start. The ninth-regionally-ranked Maroons were led by first-years Vindya Dayananda, Anuja Parikh, and Alice Williams, all of whom went undefeated in their singles matches.

“It was a big step for our women’s team to defeat two ranked teams in one weekend,” head coach Marty Perry said. “Not only were they nationally ranked but they were ranked above us in the regional rankings. It means a lot to the program.”

From the opening serve, the Maroons laid down the hammer against the Norse. The visitors swept the doubles competition to go up 3–0, and then took four of five singles matches to ice the victory. Chicago displayed its depth, receiving victories from the pairings of Dayananda and third-year Ade Omodele-Lucien, Parikh and Williams, fourth-year Annie Miller and first-year Preetha Rajamani.

While the final margin was lopsided, the individual matches were back-and-forth affairs. Dayananda, the first-year phenom from Kathmandu, cruised to victory in first singles, breezing past Luther third-year Annalise Conaway in straight sets 6–1, 6–0. 17th-regionally-ranked third-year Ade Omodele-Lucien chipped in for Chicago, coming from behind to edge 28th-regionally-ranked fourth-year Kirsten Madsen 2–6, 6–3, 6–4 at second singles. Parikh contributed with a marathon 6–4, 3–6, 12–10 decision at third over fourth-year Tasha Allemang.

In fourth singles, Williams came up huge for the Maroons, showing her composure as she gritted out a 2–6, 6–0, 10–4 win over third-year Molly Beyer.

“Basically, I got more focused,” Williams said. “I hit all my shots, and hit balls deeper and for a higher percentage”

First-year Jackie Colvin finished things off for Chicago in sixth singles with a convincing 6–4, 6–2 triumph over first-year Taylor Cochrane. Fourth-year Tara Huinker provided the only bright spot for the Norse with a 6–4, 6–2 win over fourth-year Annie Miller at fifth.

“I’m a little surprised [about the result],” Perry said. “But I know from my experience that they fight extremely hard, whether they’re up or down. They’ve been doing that all year.”

The Maroons’ competitiveness, on display against Luther, was put to the test against the Britons. After dropping two of three doubles matches, the Maroons were forced to play from behind and make up ground in singles. Led by their first years, they did just that.

Dayananda, ranked 11th in the region, eked out a 6–4, 7–6 decision over 23rd-regionally-ranked fourth-year Katie Tornga. Down 5–1 midway through the second set, she came back to take six of the next seven games for the victory.

“Vindya did an awesome job of raising her level [of play] to the level of her first set, after dropping behind in the second set,” Perry said.

Parikh once again took her match to three sets, outlasting third-year Emily Stocker, 6–4, 2–6, 6–2. Williams dropped the first set in her match against second-year Vic Seiter, but stormed back, winning the next 12 game for a 6–7, 6–0, 6–0 victory.

While the freshmen continued their strong play, Miller clinched the meet with a 6–3, 6–2 victory over Mara Rendina in fifth singles. Betsy Netherton and Emily Gundersen scored the lone Albion singles victories in the competition, over Omodele-Lucien and Colvin, respectively.

“We’ve been practicing for a month and we actually executed what we’ve been practicing,” Williams said. “We’ve been progressing as a team and individually.”

With the wins, the Maroons placed themselves in prime position to make a run at a place in the NCAA tournament. Bids go to the top eight teams in the region, and Chicago, ranked ninth, is currently on the outside looking in. That may have changed after this weekend. With matches against Carthage and Wash U still looming on the schedule, it’s still too early to make postseason plans, but things are looking up for the up-and-coming program.

“We have the schedule to possibly make it [the NCAAs],” Perry said. “We know we can’t get it [a bid] unless we keep on playing hard and improving. We [the coaches] were very pleased. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from them this weekend. They gave it 100 percent.”

The Maroons look to keep their winning streak alive when they host 28th-ranked Carthage Saturday.