When women’s tennis took the courts against Chicago State Saturday, the squad hadn’t played an official match in over 104 days. Opening the season against a D-I opponent was a tall order, but the Maroons stepped up to meet the challenge.
“We get a number of weeks off in October, November, December,” third-year captain Vindya Dayananda said. “You get rusty.”
But nothing shakes the rust off like a win over a NCAA D-I rival.
After having to search for time to play on the multi-purpose courts at Henry Crown before winter break, the 19th-ranked Maroons (1–0) topped the Cougars (0–1) in convincing fashion with a 7–2 victory. Saturday’s triumph runs up the squad’s dual match winning streak to four, carrying over from last season.
While a DI–DIII showdown is eye-catching on paper, the squad had no doubts about its ability to handle its first foes of 2008.
“We’ve had experience playing Chicago State before and though they have some good players, we are definitely the stronger team,” second-year Marissa Lin said. “We took that into mind before our game and just made it our goal to compete at an intense level and outplay them.”
Setting the tone for the day, Lin, ranked 29th nationally last May, came out strong in first doubles with partner Dayananda, ousting CSU 8–4. Lin followed that performance with a straight sets downing at first singles, while Dayananda suffered the team’s only setback in solos, falling 6–3, 7–5 after a closely contested second set.
Even as Lin and Dayananda combined to notch a victory on the first doubles court, the Cougars came from behind to win at second doubles, swinging the momentum in favor of Chicago State. However, the Maroons regained control of the match when the singles picked up their rackets.
“I thought it was a good start,” head coach Marty Perry said. “We came out aggressive in doubles, good communication, and our singles came out playing with confidence, playing to win.”
That confidence translated into straight-set wins in four out of six singles matches. First-years Chrissy Hu and Cristina Simpetru and second-years Justine Kentla and Jennifer Walters also scored big Ws in solos competition.
Raising their game at the bottom of the lineup, Simpetru and Walters dominated the fifth and sixth singles matches, respectively, with 6–0, 6–0 blankings at both levels. The two also combined for an 8–1 smashing at third doubles.
The Maroons will continue to look to the lower singles players to accompany Lin and Dayananda throughout the season. Although Chicago State’s strength came mostly at the top of the lineup, other teams will flash their depth, and the South Siders are keeping in mind that a good first match does not guarantee success down the road for this young team.
“They had some very talented players (who were) very impressive, but we handled them,” Perry said.
With the first win in their pocket, the Maroons are off in the right direction, and they’ll look to team leaders Dayananda and fellow third-year Anuja Parikh to guide them through a tough schedule. The two have faced the challenge of entering the leadership positions a little earlier than usual due to the absence of any fourth-years on the roster. So far, Dayananda has made unity among the young Maroons a focal point of the season.
“It’s been interesting,” Dayananda said. “We have a small team…and everyone pretty much looks after themselves. As captain, I’m just making sure the freshmen are closer as a team, and the rest follows.”
Lin has also worked with Dayananda to set an example through their attitude on the court.
“At first singles and together as first doubles, I think we try to set an example for the other girls as enthusiastic and dedicated team members. Hopefully that will show through as the season progresses,” Lin said.
They may be green, but the freshmen have been holding their own, with Hu setting the tone. The highest-ranked first-year on the roster, Hu improved to 3–0 in singles competition with a 6–2, 6–4 thumping over Chicago State’s Dian Masayari.
The young roster, however, will face its biggest battles in mid-February, with away match-ups against Denison, Kenyon, and Wash U over a nine-day span making up the key point of the Maroons’ season.
“That’s going to be a very important week,” Dayananda said. “It’s a good measure of where the team is, how we’re doing.”
Last year, a 3–6 loss to Denison preceded a four-match winning streak for the Maroons, including a 9–0 victory over rival Wash U.
“They have always been our rivals, and though we dominated them last year, they do have a few up-and-coming players, so we will have to prepare ourselves for a bit of a battle,” Lin said. “But I’m pretty confident that we can pull through and win again.”