Last season, women’s tennis entered its spring break training trip as a young team still uncertain of its full potential and left on a hot streak en route to the program’s first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament. This year, with their credentials already solidified, the Maroons took advantage of some tough competition to prepare themselves for the difficult road ahead.
Taking on four top-notch foes in five days, 15th-ranked Chicago (6–5) took its lumps but displayed a consistency and competitiveness that bodes well as the season hits its home stretch. The Maroons went 1–3 on the week, dropping matches to 10th-ranked DII squad Florida Gulf Coast and DI program Akron, before rebounding to take down Trinity (CT). The South Siders ended the trip with a narrow loss to Connecticut College. Forced to adjust to a week without practice due to finals as well as a switch from indoor to outdoor courts, the Maroons proved to be up for the challenge with a number of strong individual and tandem performances.
“I think we’ve been more consistent with our lineup this year,” head coach Marty Perry said. “We have more experience at every position this year, and because of that, consistency. Each one of them knows what they have to do to help the cause, and I think that’s important going into the end of the season, the accountability factor.”
Opening their tour on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers, the Maroons held their own against the hosts but fell in the end 6–3. Displaying its improved depth, Chicago earned victories at second and sixth singles, along with third doubles.
Competing in the second slot after spending almost the entirety of last year at first, second-year Vindya Dayananda earned a straight set decision over Pernille Sattari, 6–2, 6–2. First-year Justine Kentla continued her strong play, gritting out a 7–5, 6–4 victory over Joanne Power in sixth. Kentla teamed up with third-year Michelle Parad 8–6 in the final doubles spot. Dayananda and first-year Marissa Lin put forth a strong showing at the first tandem slot as well, taking a 7–4 lead before running out of gas at the end to fall 8–6.
The next three matches were all played in the shadow of Universal Studios in Orlando, where the squad competed at Lake Cane Park. Taking on the Zips, the Maroons were handicapped by illness, turning an otherwise balanced matchup into an easy win for Akron. Without Parad at sixth singles and third doubles, the pressure was turned up a notch on the rest of the Maroons. Despite some close results, they were unable to churn out the upset. Lin picked up Chicago’s only singles victory on the day with a marathon, 4–6, 7–5, 1–0 (10–7) decision at second singles over Jenna Larson.
With Parad back in the fold against Trinity, the Maroons turned it up to nab a decisive 6–3 decision. Lin, Kentla, and Parad all picked up individual wins, and the Maroons made it a clean sweep in doubles, with Dayananda and Lin and Omodele-Lucien and Parikh chipping in their first wins of the week. Parad was forced to retire early against the Camels, though, and Chicago was once again at a disadvantage. The vacated doubles slot provided the final margin for Connecticut, as they won 5–4.
“I think the team was a little disappointed with our results against Connecticut, since they were ranked lower than us, and we expected ourselves to win,” Lin said. “We lost by only one match, so it was really tough knowing that some of us, myself included, could have made a better showing.”
Despite a strong schedule and nearly perfect regional record, the chances of repeating last year’s unprecedented postseason appearance took a considerable blow during the offseason when the NCAA changed its selection criteria for the DIII tourney. Breaking from the old system, in which the top eight teams from each region were selected to advance to the playoffs by a mathematic ranking system, this year’s tournament will allot 32 automatic bids for conference champions and another eight slots for teams without any league affiliation. That leaves only eight at-large bids for squads like the Maroons, should they come up short in the UAA tourney, dominated in recent years by the top-ranked Emory Eagles (8–4).
“We’re not really focusing on NCAAs because we don’t really know if we’re gonna make it. It’s kind of out our control, so we’re just focusing on our next four events,” Perry said. “It’ll be tough—it’s a tough conference—but we know what we’re getting into and what type of competition we’ll face in Cleveland.”