After sending two first-years to NCAAs in as many years, and boasting a starting order with only two upperclassmen, women’s tennis doesn’t deny the importance of youth to its rise as a competitive program.
However, the ability to attract the top-notch recruits who have boosted Chicago’s stock of late stems from the squad’s marked improvement over the past few campaigns. Spearheading this recent resurgence, the team’s sole starting fourth-year, captain Ade Omodele-Lucien, has been at the forefront of the transformation every step of the way.
When Omodele-Lucien arrived at Chicago, the program was on the heels of a 2–4 spring season and hadn’t cracked the podium of the UAA since the conference’s founding.
Yet the Berkeley, CA, native immediately filled the South Side’s void of talent. Debuting at the top slot in both singles and doubles, the freshman posted 8–11 and 12–9 records as Chicago jumped up a notch to a sixth-place finish at the league championships.
In anything but a sophomore slump the following spring, Omodele-Lucien returned to go 12–10 in solo appearances and 15–8 in tandems, helping the team to its first winning season since 2000. More importantly, a strong showing at conferences bumped the Maroons into fourth, laying a solid foundation for a program resurrection.
Building on this success, Chicago faced a drastically more difficult schedule as it attempted to garner national notice in Omodele-Lucien’s junior campaign. Now a veteran on the squad, she took a back seat to All-American newcomer Vindya Dayananda at singles, playing in the second slot en route to an 11–13 record. Adjusting beautifully to the increased competition at doubles, Omodele-Lucien paired with Dayananda to earn a 12–8 mark on the year and lead the squad to another fourth-place finish at UAAs.
Yet despite this league stagnation, the Maroons’ 15–9 record against such a grueling slate of opponents earned the squad an NCAA postseason bid, making it the first in program history to pack its bags and head to Nationals.
By this time, three years of doubles experience and a season with the talented Dayananda at her side had molded Omodele-Lucien into a true pairs threat.
“She developed into a strong doubles player,” head coach Marty Perry said. “She was probably our strongest doubles player and is definitely the most experienced one we have. She played with a lot of confidence, and was a tremendous volleyer. She’s a very mature doubles player, and just has a good sense in doubles as far as positioning on the court. A strong singles player as well, but doubles has been where she’s helped us the most”
Taking this prowess into Nationals, Omodele-Lucien and Dayananda trailed Wheaton in doubles competition and seemed on the verge of dropping their first-ever postseason appearance. Displaying the grit that helped her become the cornerstone to Chicago’s dangerous pairs play, Omodele-Lucien bounced back and led the charge in a narrow comeback. She and Dayananda claimed the 9-–8 win over the Thunder’s fourth-year Elizabeth Maclellan and All-American and national singles finalist, first-year Jordan Hook.
“One the most memorable moments I can recall is when Omodele-Lucien came back at NCAAs,” Perry said. “She just took over the match and was able to fight back.”
Although the team took a 5–3 loss in the match, Omodele-Lucien’s headstrong desire to win stood out.
“She has muscle cramp problems because she works so hard during her matches, and that’s just indicative of her style on the court,” Perry said. “One of the biggest struggles we have as college coaches is getting players to play tight on the net, and she’s never afraid of getting hit and has the
courage and confidence to get that position. She’s fearless. This is really what’s helped her become the best doubles player I’ve coached here.”
This unwavering confidence made Omodele-Lucien a model leader, and despite recently relinquishing the spotlight to the team’s younger players, she has excelled in her role as the Maroons’ experienced veteran, imparting her wisdom on to the likes of Dayananda and first-year national qualifier Marissa Lin.
“She’s been very instrumental in teaching our younger players how to play doubles,” Perry said. “Because there’s not as much doubles play at the junior levels, lots of players need help transitioning in college. She’s set a good example in playing with them and has helped them develop a lot more rapidly than if she hadn’t been around.”
As fresh talent such as Dayananda and Lin dominated the courts in her senior season, the captain moved to third and fourth singles and second doubles, struggling with a 7–12 mark in solo matches but continued her double dominance, registering at 16–5 with second-year Anju Parikh. The Maroons’ marked influx of talent brought the squad a third-place finish at UAAs, Chicago’s best since 1988.
Even as Omodele-Lucien moved down in the lineup to make room for promising rookies, her spot as a leader on a team making strides to the top was never challenged.
“Our schedule got a lot harder as we brought in a lot of talent, but she’s been very consistent,” said Perry. “For four years she’s been an integral part of the team every single season. She’s irreplaceable.”