SPORTS

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February 17, 2009

During weekend road trip to Ohio, women roll but men struggle against ranked opponents

In their first big test in D-III play, women’s tennis found validation with two strong wins, while a 1–2 performance left the men with more questions.

The annual swing through Ohio saw the 15th-ranked women take down third-ranked Denison 6–3 Friday and Kenyon 9–0 Saturday, two wins that have the young Maroons ready to move up the national rankings.

“After our win over Denison we had a lot of confidence going into our next match against Kenyon,” first-year Carmen VacaGuzman said. “It showed us that we can be one of the best teams in the country.”

The women got off to a quick start Friday, sweeping doubles competition to take a 3–0 lead on Denison.

“I think our team came out really strong and motivated,” VacaGuzman said. “We knew they were a great team but also trusted our abilities as a team to come out with a win in the end.”

Matched against the fifth-ranked pair of Marta Drane and Kristin Cobb, first-year Kendra Higgins and second-year Chrissy Hu highlighted the Maroons’ doubles performance with an 8–5 win at the top spot.

Chicago carried the momentum into singles competition, winning the first set in five out of six singles matches.

With the match in the balance, however, Denison’s top players rallied. The nation’s 12th-ranked player, Meghan Damico, overcame a 6–1 loss to first-year Jennifer Kung in the first set of first singles to win 1–6, 6–3, 10–4. Cobb, ranked 31st in singles play, dropped the first set to Higgins before closing out a 2–6, 7–6, 11–9 win.

First-year Tiffany Nguyen lost the third tiebreaker of the evening, narrowly dropping her sixth singles match 6–2, 6–7, 16–14.

Chicago’s depth proved to be the difference though, as VacaGuzman, Hu, and fourth-year Vindya Dayananda won third, fourth, and fifth singles, respectively, to seal the Maroons’s victory.

A quicker match followed for the South Siders Sunday, as Chicago outclassed Kenyon 9–0.

The hosts picked up just two games in doubles competition and dropped each singles contest in straight sets. Higgins and Dayananda swept their opponents at second and fifth singles, and Kenyon won just seven games in the bottom five spots.

Kung faced the toughest test, having to go to a tiebreaker in the second set, but still took first singles 6–4, 7–5.

The 25th-ranked men didn’t find the trip through Ohio to be quite so pleasant, as a 9–0 win over Wabash was cold comfort for a 5–4 to 26th-ranked Denison and a 9–0 setback to 8th-ranked Kenyon.

“This weekend I feel like very few of us played well, which was disappointing, as it was a big weekend for D-III competition,” second-year Will Zhang said.

The men’s squad expected a close matchup Friday against Denison, who sits just one spot below the Maroons in the national and regional rankings.

Looking for an upset, Denison pounced on Chicago with a sweep of doubles play, giving the hosts a 3–0 lead.

Zhang led a Chicago comeback in singles play, taking first singles in straight sets. Third-years Lado Bakhutashvili and Steve Saltarelli matched that feat at the second and fifth spots, respectively, while first-year Troy Brinker took his third singles match 6–4, 6–7, 6–4.

Still, the Big Red proved too much for Chicago, picking up wins at fourth and sixth singles to seal their first victory of the season, 5–4.

On the heels of their first D-III loss of the season, the Maroons charged into double shot Saturday, matched up against Wabash before meeting host Kenyon.

The Maroons dominated Wabash from the start, not ceding more than four games in any of their doubles contests. Saltarelli and third-year Garrett Brinker came away with an 8–4 win at first singles, the pair’s first victory of the season. Meanwhile, Bakhutashvili and first-year Jan

Stefanski won 8–3 at second doubles, and second-year Mark Bonner teamed with Troy Brinker for an 8–2 win at the third spot.

Chicago kept the ball rolling into singles, winning five of six contests in straight sets. Second-year Paul Namkoong met the most resistance at second singles, where he needed a tiebreaker in the third set to close out the win.

Kenyon awaited, and Chicago found its luck reversed against the national powerhouse.

The Maroons dropped all three doubles contests, with no pairing coming closer than 8–5. In singles competition, only Saltarelli was able to force a third set, but the veteran eventually dropped a tiebreaker at the fourth singles spot.

“This weekend was evidently disappointing, and there is much room to improve,” Zhang said.

“We are planning on not only work on our technique, but also work on staying intense and focused on the court.”