With an all-too-brief season now over, the women's tennis team is determined to improve and start next year on a stronger note. The season concluded this past weekend with the UAA Championship tournament in St. Louis, which was hosted by Washington University. There the Maroons finished a disappointing seventh place out of a possible eight, losing two matches and winning just one.
Inclement weather was again a factor for the Maroons in this final competition, when rain forced Friday's scheduled outdoor matches to indoor courts. The net result was that tournament officials had no choice but to cut three of the scheduled nine matches because of a lack of court availability. With only six matches, Chicago had less of an opportunity to prove itself and potentially knock off an opponent. The Maroons faced their toughest match-up of the tournament against the hometown favorite, Washington University, which was ranked second among the eight UAA schools. Chicago was shut out 0-5 by the deep and talented Bears, with the last match defaulting due to decision play. The Chicago players nonetheless did not fare too poorly, considering their lack of match experience and Washington's impressive 14-3 record. The team was, however, considerably upset by the defeat because even with just one early loss the team's highest possible finish was reduced to a meager fifth place.
Before the tournament, most players as well has head coach Bill Simms hoped that Chicago would not draw Washington or eventual champion Emory in the first round. Facing any of the other five teams would have potentially allowed Chicago an opening victory that would have assured them of a stronger finish.
Emory easily won the championship match against Washington 9-0 and did not lose a single game throughout the tournament. Brandeis University was able to squeak by regional rival New York University 5-4 to finish a respectable third.
Saturday brought beautiful, sunny tennis weather and two matches for the Maroons, the first a challenging duel with Carnegie Mellon. The match started off well, with first and second doubles both earning wins. CMU then took over during the grueling singles competition. Three of the six singles players lost their matches in two sets, while the other three--first, third, and fifth singles--split sets and played out a third in the noon sun. The first singles player, first-year Annie Miller, ended up losing a heartbreaker 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 to Christina Weng. First-year Liz Saydah, after hanging on for the comeback set, eventually fell 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 to Elizabeth Weiss. By then CMU had already clinched victory, but fourth-year May-Ping Tan, in her final singles match as a Chicago Maroon, would not give up, bringing her tight match (6-7, 7-6) to a decision tiebreak in place of a third set. Tiebreaks normally end after the winner reaches 10 points and wins by 2. Tan's tiebreak ran for 36 marathon points, and unfortunately CMU's Grace Hwang edged out the final two points, winning 19-17.
Later in the day, Chicago faced Case Western Reserve in the seventh-place match, quickly winning the three doubles matches and then racking up four singles wins. The team lost two singles matches, one of which was called at the set due to nightfall, but was still able to prevail 7-2.
Simms admitted minor disappointment at the seventh-place finish. "I had expected us to break the top four, and I know we should have beaten Carnegie Mellon, but we came out there and did what we could with what we had, and I am proud of everyone," Simms said. Top players also felt the sense of disappointment but kept a positive spin on the tournament's results and the future of the team.
"In spite of our seventh-place ranking coming into the tournament and our lower than expected finish, we definitely had the potential to do well, and we were on the verge of breaking into the top five," Saydah said.
As for the rest of the school year, the tennis team plans to work on problem areas and lobby for the return of the charismatic Simms, who was hired as an interim coach and must reapply for the head coach position he held from 1979 until his retirement 2000. Simms replaced Natalie Butler, who accepted a position with the NCAA.
The Maroons will lose fourth-years Tan and Katherine Lumpkin, who will both graduate in the spring, but with Chicago's many first-years becoming stronger and more experienced, the team is optimistic that it can improve its lineup and build an eventual UAA powerhouse.