May 8, 2009

Bracket Spin: Women's tennis heads to NCAAs

The women’s tennis team’s pre-match script would probably be getting old if it weren’t so effective.Every match, it seems, the Maroons tell themselves the same things: play hard, stay focused, concentrate on the match at hand, and everything will turn out alright. After months of playing hard, staying focused, and concentrating on the match at hand, the squad hopes its hard work will pay off when the opening rounds of the NCAA Championships begin with Regionals this weekend at DePauw.“It’ll feel like another regional match…. Throughout the year, we’ve tried to win every match just because we know how much that affects our ranking,” fourth-year Vindya Dayananda said. “This will be a little bit of pressure, but we’ve dealt with that before. There’s not a lot to change. I think the girls know what to expect.”After a third place finish at UAAs, Chicago has earned the fourth seed in the tournament, behind first-ranked Amherst, second-ranked Williams, and third-ranked Emory. While the team heads to DePauw with the same attitude it has had toward every match, this weekend offers the current roster a shot at accomplishing something no Chicago team has ever done: win a tournament match.Chicago was defeated by Wheaton in the first round of the 2006 tournament, the only time the Maroons have qualified for Nationals as a team. Dayananda, the only player remaining from that team, spoke for the team and all of Chicago’s followers when she said the team has high expectations for this weekend.“Every year, getting to Nationals is one of our number one goals,” she said. “This year we started off playing so well. Being able to go to Nationals with a pretty good chance of doing pretty well is exciting.”The Maroons’ success this season has earned them an extra day off this weekend at Regionals, with a first-round bye sending Chicago straight into the round of 32 of the single-elimination tournament on Saturday. There, they are set to play the winner of the first-round match between Grinnell (19–6) and Westminster (10–9).Chicago hasn’t met either team this season, so first-year Jennifer Kung emphasized the need for the Maroons to stick to their game plan heading into the tournament.“We don’t really know that much about them, but we just have to stay focused and not let the pressure get to us,” Kung said. “Just do what we’ve been doing all year.”Assuming the squad is able to advance out of the second round, Chicago will most likely meet either Wash U or 12th-ranked DePauw, a pair of familiar opponents for the South Siders.Chicago took on DePauw (16–8) on March 25, downing the Tigers 6–3 in a contest that featured four three-set matches. A little more than a week later, on April 4, the Maroons beat DePauw a second time, 5–1.If 14th-ranked Wash U (14–6) upsets DePauw in the second round, Chicago will face another welcome rematch from earlier this season. Two weeks ago at the UAA tournament, the Maroons dominated the Bears in the conference’s third-place match 8–1.“It just matters how much we want it,” first-year Kendra Higgins said. “We are all eager to have this chance to play and show our full potential as a team.”One of the team’s themes this season has been approaching every match with the same attitude. With each potential hurdle laid out in front of them ahead of time, however, the National tournament’s format could test the Maroons’ focus this weekend.“It’s always hard to ignore the fact that we actually know who we’ll be playing,” Kung said. “We just have to try to not worry about it, and just try to worry about each match by itself. After we’ve won one, then we can think about the next one.”Two wins this weekend would set the Maroons up for a meeting with sixth-ranked Carnegie on May 19 in an evenly-matched conference clash. Carnegie holds a 6–3 victory over Emory already this season and had been ranked ahead of Chicago for most of the year until being dethroned at the UAA tournament.The third place contest could feature a similarly close match-up if everyone plays to seed, as Chicago and Emory are set to clash for the third time this season. Emory has won both of the previous two by 5–4 scores, including a comeback win in the semifinals of the UAA tournament. Even though the Maroons are confident that the third time will be the charm, they’re hesitant to ask for a third place match with Emory.“Hopefully, we won’t have a rematch unless it’s in the finals,” Kung said with a laugh.Regional action begins for Chicago on Saturday at 2 p.m. EST, and a win in the first round would mean another match on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. If the Maroons are able to advance to the quarterfinals, the final three rounds take place from May 19–21, after which the individual tournament will take place.