May 17, 2011

Maroons roll to regional crown

The women’s tennis team easily triumphed in NCAA D-III regional action this past weekend. Due to sub-par weather conditions, the Maroons played for a smaller crowd than they had hoped at Bally’s Total Fitness on 47th Street, instead of on the Stagg Field tennis courts. In spite of the less-than-ideal weather circumstances, Chicago easily clinched the regional title, beating Luther 5–0 on Saturday and Gustavus Adolphus 5–0 on Sunday. The overwhelming victories give Chicago momentum going into national quarterfinal action against Denison next Tuesday.

Going into Saturday, the feared 17–3 Chicago squad did not want to overlook the 22–10 Luther lineup, yet it was hard not to, given that the Maroons were the top-seeded team in the region and are ranked fourth in the nation.

“Yes, it would have been easy to overlook our competition since we were the top seed, but our coach [Marty Perry] made sure that we stayed grounded and didn’t look too far ahead,” third-year Jennifer Kung said.

Chicago gained focus through the words of Perry. An injury sustained earlier in the season by fourth-year No. 1 doubles player Chrissy Hu emphasized to the Maroons the importance of maintaining focus throughout the first three matches of the day.

Kung and third-year Kendra Higgins were able to maintain the focus necessary for victory. Besting their Luther opponents 8–1, the pair quickly put a point on the board for the Maroons.

However, the other two doubles matches were a different story. Third-years Tiffany Nguyen and Aswini Krishnan edged out their opponents with a tight 8–6 victory at No. 3 doubles. Second-year Linden Li and third-year Carmen Vaca Guzman found themselves in a worse situation. With the score tied at 8–8, the first doubles team to reach seven points would receive a point for the dual. Mental toughness proved to be the key in the tiebreaker as the Chicago duo won 9–8 (3).

The injury-plagued doubles lineup attributes their victories to their awareness on the courts.

“Everyone focused on their own match,” Li said. “No one depended on the other.”

Singles play proved to be much easier than doubles. Needing two victories to reserve a spot in Sunday’s regional final against Gustavus Adolphus, Chicago did not let their concentration stray.

Dominant victories by Kung at No. 2 singles, 6–0, 6–0, and Vaca Guzman 6–2, 6–0 at No. 3 singles ended the day much earlier than Luther had hoped for. The other four singles matches went unfinished.

While Chicago cruised to an easy victory on Saturday, they were not ready to underestimate Gustavus Adolphus, the 16th-ranked team in the nation.

“We especially didn’t want to underestimate Gustavus [Adolphus] since we know that they are a very tough team,” Kung said.

The Maroons received a tangible boost with the return of Hu in doubles. Although she was still unable to play singles, the stronger lineup would ensure victory in matches, and this ended up being exactly the case. Krishnan and Kung were able to beat their opponents easily 8–1 at No. 3, with Li and Vaca Guzman winning with an overwhelming 8–3 score at No. 2. The return of the two-time national champion pair, Hu and Higgins, did not disappoint, as they edged out their opponents 8–5.

Once again, two singles victories would clinch a spot in the national quarterfinal in Claremont, California. This time, the first win came at No. 1 singles, where Higgins almost shut out her opponent, winning 6–1, 6–0. Vaca Guzman won 6–3, 6–0.

While the Maroons are pleased to be the regional champions for the third year in a row, they know they still have much work to do to beat their performances of the past two years, both of which earned them fourth place at nationals.

With Hu back in the lineup, Chicago is hopeful of winning the national title.

“We’re all glad Chrissy [Hu] is back in the lineup since she’s our best doubles player, and she’s had really strong singles results this year. She’s been doing everything she can to get better as fast as possible. She’s still not 100 percent, but hopefully she’ll be close by the time we play next week,” Kung said.

The Maroons take on Denison one week from today in Claremont, California.

“We are ready to go to California and to take on whatever challenges are set up for us,” Li said.