So close, so far.
That’s the only way to describe the women’s tennis team’s finish at this week’s NCAA tournament, where they once more fell six points short of the national title and instead settled for another fourth-place trophy.
The Maroons ousted a gritty Pomona team 5–1 in the quarterfinals Tuesday, earning their second trip to the Final Four in as many seasons. Things looked bright for Chicago early against the two-time defending champion Williams, but in the end it was the defending champs moving on with a 5–4 win and the Maroons waiting until next year.
“It’s hard,” head coach Marty Perry said. “All four of these teams [in the Final Four] are really close in the match-ups. You just have a couple players have an off day or get a bad start, maybe don’t react well to a style of play they’re matched with, and things can get away from you.”
The loss set up a return trip to the consolation final, where the Maroons fell 5–2 to Amherst, giving Chicago its second straight fourth-place finish. The team is the first in school history to finish in the top four in consecutive seasons, but the higher expectations of this season have the Maroons thinking about what might have been.
“We were right there with Williams all the way to the end, and we really feel like could have won that match,” Kung said. “Obviously we wanted to win the whole thing, but it just didn’t work out.”
Chicago, the tournament’s third seed, faced a serious challenge Tuesday afternoon, as seventh-seeded Pomona took one doubles point and fell just short of another in quarterfinal action. The Maroons, however, bounced back in singles, picking up their last three points in short order.
Tuesday’s win sent the Maroons to another Final Four, where they joined Amherst, Williams, and Emory for an encore of last year’s semifinals. Last year, Chicago dropped a close 5–4 contest to Amherst in the semifinals; this time around, they matched up against second-seeded Williams.
Playing in 90-degree heat, both teams came out swinging for a bid in the finals. After the two squads split the one and two doubles matches, second-years Carmen VacaGuzman and Aswini Krishnan won a two-hour marathon match at three doubles, battling their way to a 9–8 (7–4) victory.
The scene was a return to last year’s Final Four, when the Maroons took an early lead over Amherst only to watch the match slip away in singles. For Chicago, the next couple of hours were déja vu.
Williams won at six, two, and three singles in straight sets, putting Chicago just one loss away from defeat. Second-year Kendra Higgins then scored a win at one singles, before first-year Linden Li equalized with a win at the fourth spot. Just 30 seconds later, third-year Chrissy Hu stretched her match to a third set, meaning that the final set would decide the match.
“I think everyone on our team believed Chrissy could win the match, including Chrissy, but the other girl played really well,” Kung said.
Williams’ Nancy Worley won the last set in commanding fashion, relegating the Maroons to another third-place match and sending the Ephs on to another championship match. Williams would go on to win the tournament Thursday, beating Emory 5–0.
“We just didn’t have what it took to overcome their consistency,” Perry said. “It was two teams giving all they’ve got, gutting out, and they were just a little bit better than us that day—not by much—but just a little bit.”
The Maroons fell to Amherst Thursday in the third-place match, leaving Chicago in a similar position to that in which it found itself after last year’s NCAA tournament. For Kung, though, this week’s tournament was confirmation that Chicago belongs in the upper tier of D-III tennis.
“It’s early to be looking to next year already, but this week showed us that we are that close,” she said. “We know we’re good enough; we just have to all be able to play as well as we can when we need to.”