SPORTS

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April 20, 2007

NCAAs: Mission Impossible for tennis

Riding an 8–1 crushing of Augustana in its final home appearance of the season, women’s tennis must harness its momentum and use every inch of its potential if it wants to come out on top at UAAs and extend its season into May.

Almost certainly needing a tournament championship to guarantee a second consecutive trip to the NCAA team tournament, the 24th-ranked Maroons (9–7) will hold court Friday in Cleveland with everything to play for in a competition that has yielded little success in the past. Chicago clinched the third seed for the conference championships, settling in behind ninth-ranked, defending champion Emory (10–8) and 18th-ranked Carnegie at first and second.

Heading to Case this year, the Maroons face a bracket rife with potential stumbling blocks. Just as in last year’s tourney, Chicago faces sixth-seeded Brandeis (8–6) in the first round. If the Maroons’ pair of shutout stompings against fourth-seeded Wash U (9–9) earlier in the year serves as any indication of how the South Siders handle middle-of-the-road UAA foes, cruising past the Judges seems likely. That’s when things get interesting.

A first round victory will likely set Chicago up against the Tartans, who need only to dispatch underdog Rochester (5–8) to advance. Assuming Emory performs as expected, taking down bottom-feeders Case (3–8) and then either fifth-seeded NYU (9–5) or Wash U, Chicago would need to tackle the Eagles in the final, a feat no team has accomplished in the history of the conference. Emory’s streak of 19 consecutive conference wins is the fourth longest for any sport in all of Division III, making a UAA without the Eagles at the helm seem a distant possibility.

Yet Chicago has the hand to make history, if the Maroons play their cards right. The young squad boasts a duo of highly talented solo artists, not to mention a set of potent pairings in the doubles department.

Newcomer Marissa Lin has put a fresh face on the squad, snatching the top singles slot from last year’s wonderchild Vindya Dayananda and compiling an impressive 15–6 solo record.

Dayananda hasn’t lost her touch either. After her coronation as UAA Rookie of the Year last spring, the second-year has kept pace with Lin throughout the season, notching a 15–6 record in singles and coupling with her on-team rival at first doubles, where the pair has gone 11–8.

Though the dream team of Lin and Dayananda often steals the show, the squad is stacked with other players whose performance will be equally critical in throttling the Tartans or clipping the Eagles’ wings.

Fourth-year captain Ade Omodele-Lucien (6–10) and second-year Anuja Parikh (7–9) both have losing records at singles, yet are a force to be reckoned with at doubles, where the duo surged to a 14–4 mark.

After pulling a leg muscle in her match at Wheaton two weeks ago, Omodele-Lucien rested last week against Augustana and should be ready to go out in style over the weekend as she plays what could be her final matches with Chicago.

Posting a less-than-inspiring 1–7 mark in her matches last spring, third-year Michele Parad has broken out this year, rocketing upward in the team’s rankings toward an 11–6 singles record. Parad combines with first-year Justine Kentla (7–8) at the third doubles slot (8–8).

Chicago’s success will be decided by players such as Parad and Kentla, who will look to notch up victories in the lower singles slots where wins are not as guaranteed as they are with stars such as Lin and Dayananda.

This year, a UAA Championship will bring more than just glory and bragging rights because the NCAA has awarded conference champions an automatic playoff bid for the first time. The guaranteed berths come at some expense, though, and are a big reason why the Maroons will be sweating it out this weekend. Only seven at-large bids will be doled out—last year, the top eight teams in the region made it—and with the squad’s recent losses to Wheaton and Carthage, an NCCA berth may be a long shot without the UAA banner.