Women’s tennis fourth at league

By Joe Katz

With half of their young lineup gracing the league’s biggest stage for their first time, women’s tennis didn’t see all its dreams come true at conferences. Even so, they still had one heck of a ride.

With the young gun first-year Vindya Dayananda leading the way with a 2–1 mark at first singles, the 15th-ranked Maroons (15–8) racked in their second fourth-place finish in as many years at this weekend’s UAA tourney in Atlanta. Chicago had little trouble shaking off the dust to beat the Northeast 16th-ranked Brandeis Judges (6–10) 6–3 in Friday’s first round match, but fell into a big hole early to lose in the semifinals 5–2 against 12th-ranked Carnegie (15–6) Saturday and was squeezed out in a 5–4 loss in the third-place bout by 19th-ranked Wash U (14–8) Sunday. The host, top-ranked Emory Eagles (14–6), took the league for the 19th time, continuing their run as the only school ever to win a UAA title in women’s tennis.

While the squad failed to live up to its third seed, it was a more than respectable showing against a pair of NCAA-bound squads for such an inexperienced crew. For many of the players on the court, it was their first shot at league competition at the collegiate level. Dayananda (19–9), fellow first-years Anuja Parikh (20–7) at third singles and Preetha Rajamani (4–3) and Jackie Colvin (11–6) at sixth all enjoyed their first taste of postseason play.

“Our team played really without fear; I don’t think nerves played a factor in it at all,” head coach Marty Perry said. “We had no mental letdown, no physical letdown. We played as hard as we have all year, and this is probably the hardest-playing team I’ve been associated with in eight years of college coaching.”

The squad certainly showed no fear in first-round action. Despite not having taken the court since their fourth-place finish at the Midwest Invite April 7–8, the Maroons never let Brandeis get into the match. While the regionally seventh-ranked tandem of Dayananda and third-year Ade Omodele-Lucien (20–8) fell 8–6 at first doubles, the Parikh/Rajamani pairing (2–1) pulled off an 8–5 win at second as fourth-year Annie Miller and second-year Michele Parad (2–4) slammed the Judges 8–4 at third for the early lead.

Showing signs of rust in a 7–5 first set win over second-year Colleen Donnelly (10–10), Dayananda established her dominance with a 6–1 second set to earn the sweep at first singles. The Central’s 25th-ranked Omodele-Lucien (11–12) earned a 6–3, 6–1 triumph at second, Miller unhinged second-year Jennifer Levine (0–3) 6–1, 6–0 at fifth, and Rajamani took apart second-year Elizabeth Adamov (0–2) 6–1, 6–1 at sixth to complete the victory.

“I was expecting to see us play well enough to get a team victory, but I was expecting some drop-off in the level of play, because we hadn’t played a match in two weeks,” Perry said. “You don’t play that long, sometimes you lose your mental toughness. We took a set or two team-wide to get it back.”

The showdown wasn’t as close as the final score would seem to suggest. Parad (1–6) pushed first-year Gabrielle Helfgott (6–10) to the limit in a 3–6, 6–4, 10–7 loss at fourth, and second-year Ana Katz (9–5) earned her win over Parikh at third by default when Perry forfeited her match to help her work through the calf strain suffered at the Midwest Invite.

“She had considerable pain over the last two weeks, and was limited in practice. We pulled her out as a precaution after we clinched,” Perry said. “She didn’t want to, but I made her retire. It got better as the tournament went on. It wasn’t bothering her that much.”

With Parikh back at full strength, Chicago had a shot at history against the Tartans. If they could avenge a 5–4 loss February 11, the Maroons would advance to the title game against Emory, assuring them the best finish in program history, win or lose. The team finished third in 1987, and has not cracked the top three since. Carnegie put that dream out of the South Siders’ heads early on, earning a tremendous sweep in doubles. The Dayananda and Omodele-Lucien tandem and the Miller/Parad duo each went down 8–2 at first and third. Parikh and Rajamani led their whole set at second, but first-year Sheena David and second-year Samantha Schultz (9–11) were able to begin looping the ball back at them in the late going to force the breaker and pull out a 9–8 win.

“ were very, very consistent in keeping the ball high and deep and keeping it away from the player at the net. They didn’t give us a chance to disrupt their consistency,” Perry said.

Due to rainy weather, only four singles matches were completed. With Rajamani feeling the effects of her tennis elbow, Colvin stepped in against Schultz (17–3) for the 6–3, 7–5 loss at sixth while Parad fell 7–5, 6–1 to fourth-year Alison Liu (12–14) at fourth to help Carnegie get the decision. Parikh’s 6–0, 6–3 victory over the regionally 21st-ranked David (14–15) at third was for naught, as was Dayananda’s 6–4, 2–6, 6–4 conquest of Atlantic South fourth-ranked second-year Amy Staloch (21–12) at first. The first year had been handled by the sophomore 6–3, 6–0 in the first meeting between the two teams.

Omodele-Lucien and Miller’s matches were left unfinished.

“If we had gotten one of the doubles, we had a good chance to win at two and five. The score was not indicative of how close it was. If we had pulled out the two doubles, it could have been a whole different story,” Perry said.

Unfortunately, it was just more of the same against the Central rival Bears. With both squads in the hunt for one of the region’s seven NCAA berths, more than pride and third-place was on the line on Sunday. In a tough go for the Maroons, regionally sixth-ranked Wash U emerged on top in three out of four tightly contested matchups. Parikh did her part with a 7–6, 3–6, 6–1 showing over first-year Shweta Pai (16–11) at third but her teammates came up short. Miller and Parad were blitzed 8–6 at third doubles by third-year Erin Fleming and first-year Sharon Chang (2–1), while Dayananda fell 6–3, 4–6, 6–1 to regionally 16th-ranked Fleming (24–6) at first and second-year Ashley Cook (16–11) got by Parad 4–6, 6–3, 6–2 at fourth.

“This is a match where either team could win either 6–3 or 5–4, and we knew that going in. We knew it would be close,” Perry said.

In her final UAA match, the veteran Miller came to play, beating first-year Ania Tchergueiko (6–11) 6–1, 6–4 at fifth. In other action, fourth-year Lauren Zwick (11–5) topped Omodele-Lucien 6–4, 6–3 at second, while Chang (13–9) gave Rajamani a lesson worth remembering at sixth 6–2, 6–2. In doubles, Dayananda and Omodele-Lucien took apart the regionally 13th-ranked duo of Pai and Zwick (11–10) 8–2 at first while Parikh and Rajamani smacked Cook and Tchergueiko (13–8) 8–4 at second.

The Maroons may have benefited from the absence of Wash U first-year Carrie Preston (21–3), who currently ranks ninth in the Central and has been out since April 1 due to injury. At the same time, one possible mitigating factor for the tourney was the absence of first-year Alice Williams from Chicago’s traveling squad. The precocious first-year, who has played fifth singles all year (16–6) and has paired with Parikh at second doubles (16–8), was held out for academic reasons. Rajamani stepped into her doubles spot and made two starts at sixth singles while Miller moved up to fifth. Williams’ availability for the NCAA tournament is unknown at this time.

The squad will take an easy week before beginning to gear up for NCAAs. Even after the loss to Wash U, the regionally fourth-ranked Maroons have a 12–5 mark against regionally-ranked squads and have defeated the fifth-, sixth-, seventh-, and ninth-ranked teams in the Central, likely assuring them a berth in the tournament. It would be the first national tournament trip in program history. With a phenomenal rookie season, Dayananda will likely get a spot on the court in the national singles tourney. She has recorded victories over a number of quality foes, including her victory over Staloch this weekend and is currently ranked second with eight spots available out of the Central region. She would be bidding to become the team’s first All-American since Karen Lui (A.B. ’00) in 2000.