The third-ranked Eagles won their fourth straight match in the last year against women’s tennis, toppling the Maroons 6–3 in Sunday’s ITA Championship final.
“[Against Emory] I don’t know if it was, ‘Oh my gosh, how close we were before’...but it just didn’t work out for us this weekend,” second-year Kendra Higgins said. “Then again, we’re not mad that we got second. Emory was in that position last year.”
Even with the top two teams in the country (Amherst and Williams) sitting out this year’s indoor championship, the weekend offered the Maroons a glimpse at some of the top-tier competition they’ll see over spring break and again at the NCAA Championship in May. Playing in their first ITA Championship tournament, the Maroons defeated DePauw 8–1 in the opening match before sneaking by Washington and Lee 5–4 to reach the final.
The Maroons faced few hurdles through the first two matches. Opening the tournament against 11th-ranked DePauw, the Maroons cruised to three points in doubles and took four straight-set wins in singles play.
Chicago followed that performance up with a strong outing against Washington and Lee in the first meeting between the two programs. While Washington and Lee won four singles matches, all of those wins came after the Maroons had already clinched the match by going up 5–0.
The semifinal win set up yet another clash between Chicago and Emory, who have become familiar rivals over the past season as the Maroons have pushed into the upper tier of D-III tennis and challenged the Eagles for the top spot in the UAA. After this weekend, the two teams have now played in the regular season, the conference tournament, the NCAA tournament, and the ITA tournament over the past year.
“We always play the same players...and it’s hard because, each person we play, we know their game so well,” Higgins said. “I think it’s going to be a rivalry until all of us graduate.”
In their last match, the Eagles topped Chicago 5–1 in the NCAA third-place match. The Maroons started slow once again on Sunday, as Emory took a 2–1 lead into singles play.
The top of the lineup gave Chicago a chance in singles, where Higgins fought off defending NCAA Champion Lorne McManigle and second-year Jennifer Kung picked up a win at the third spot.
The Eagles swung the match in their favor at second singles, where second-year Carmen Vaca Guzman took the first set to give Chicago reason for confidence. After going up 5–3 in the second set, Vaca Guzman couldn’t close the match out, and Emory’s Zahra Dawson came back to win 5–7, 7–6 (7–2), 6–1.
The Eagles controlled the match from there, taking the bottom three singles matches in straight sets to seal the 6–3 win.
The match marks yet another frustrating setback at the hands of the perennial UAA Champion Eagles. After losing 5–4 twice last season, Chicago has been unable to get over the hump. With no more matches currently scheduled against Emory, the Maroons will hope to get the Eagles in the UAA tournament draw, where the two squads will likely meet in the finals.
“It was disappointing losing to Emory,” Higgins said. “It was a very tough loss for us; we thought we had it this year, but it’s going to take a little more practice, a little more change in what we’re doing, And hopefully, we can beat them when it counts, especially at UAAs, or if we meet them again at NCAAs, it would be even more sweet.”
The Maroons now have three weeks off before returning to action over spring break, when they’ll play five matches in seven days. With second-ranked Williams and other top competition on the slate for that week, the Maroons will be looking to further their resume for the NCAA tournament—and get ready for another potential encounter with Emory.
“We have to keep our heads up,” Higgins said. “Every single time we go out, we’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, Emory beat us last time.’ We should be thinking, ‘Yeah, Emory beat us, but we have nothing to lose.’”