[img id="78493" align="alignleft"]
By Jake Grubman
A tournament that started off with the Central Region’s best D-III women’s tennis players wound up becoming a celebration of Chicago’s potential for the upcoming season, as the Maroons took home both the singles and doubles championships—and had the runners-up for both sides of the bracket.
Third-year Jennifer Kung topped classmate Kendra Higgins in the singles final Monday morning at Stagg Field for the second ITA Regional title of her career. Hours later, Higgins and fourth-year Chrissy Hu successfully defended their regional title by defeating third-year Carmen VacaGuzman and second-year Linden Li in another all-Chicago final.
The women’s tennis team was so good at this weekend’s ITA Central Region Championships that seemingly only they could eliminate each other. Chicago’s six singles entrants lost a total of six sets to players from other schools this weekend, with four Maroons making the quarterfinals.
They were so good that they were able to decide the location of the final round for both singles and doubles from Wash U to Stagg, because they could.
And now, five of the six members of Chicago’s contingent at Regionals will be making the trip to ITA Nationals next weekend. Withdrawals from the championship rounds in Mobile, Alabama, have cleared the way for both of the Central Region’s runners-up, meaning that Higgins will appear in the singles bracket and VacaGuzman and Li will compete in doubles.
For the Maroons, it’s an early statement in the team’s quest for elite status in D-III tennis.
“It just shows our team is the strongest team right now in our region,” Kung said. “It’s also good because not that many teams even in the other regions can do this.”
The action started Friday, with five of Chicago’s six singles competitors coasting through to the Round of 32. On Saturday, Higgins, Kung, Li, and VacaGuzman advanced all the way to the quarterfinals, losing a total of one set between them along the way. In the quarterfinals, Higgins defeated VacaGuzman in a rematch of last year’s final, while Kung eliminated Li across the bracket.
The doubles bracket saw Higgins and Hu continue a brand of dominant play that has brought home two straight NCAA D-III doubles titles. With the new pairing of VacaGuzman and Li streaking through the other side of the bracket, Chicago found itself with competitors in all four semifinals matches on Sunday.
When the Maroons came out on top in all of the semifinals matches, Chicago’s contingent consulted the tournament director at Wash U and got permission to take the tournament home to Stagg Field for Monday’s finals.
“It was nice,” Kung said. “The weather was a lot better than I thought it would be, and it was really competitive. Even though we were playing our teammates, everyone was really competitive, and both were really good matches.”
Monday morning’s singles final saw Kung capitalize on a quick start to take down Higgins 6–4, 2–6, 6–1, before Higgins came back with Hu to capture the doubles crown 6–4, 6–3 over VacaGuzman and Li.
The only downside of Monday’s all-Chicago championship day was that VacaGuzman and Li were knocked out of contention, and Higgins’s trip in the singles bracket ended. Later in the week, though, Chicago was notified that all five competitors would be making the trip to Mobile.
“When it was over, I was really happy for myself, but I also felt bad for Kendra because she was off that day,” Kung said, “and now we both get to go.”
Kung has a shot at her second ITA Championship, having won it as a first-year in 2008, while Higgins is looking to improve on her second-place finish a year ago. Higgins and Hu also finished seventh overall in last year’s tournament. The action kicks off October 14.