April 21, 2006

Women’s tennis has league in crosshairs

They may be young, but women’s tennis knows how to play. And win.

With five first-years on the squad, almost half of the 19th-ranked Maroons’ roster got its first taste of collegiate-level tennis this season. Over the course of the season, these rookies have combined to post a 65–28 mark in singles play. Breakout performances from Vindya Dayananda, Anuja Parikh, and Alice Williams have been critical in leading the squad to its 14–6 season. Chicago will lean once more on its young core as the team takes on the best in the league at the UAA Championships this weekend in Atlanta.

Combining the fresh talent with veterans like third-year Ade Omodele-Lucien (10–11) and fourth-year Annie Miller (19–6), the Maroons have put together one of the strongest seasons in recent memory.

“They’re not playing like freshmen anymore,” head coach Marty Perry said. “There’s been a significant growth rate in everyone’s game.”

“The older girls have helped us a lot, and because of them I think our performance has been increased rather than hindered,” first-year Preetha Rajamani said.

Hitting the court bright and early this morning, the third-seeded Maroons take on sixth seed Brandeis (5–8) for their first look of the year at the Judges. It will be their first contest since the Midwest Invite April 7–8, where they went 2–2 to finish in fourth place out of 12. The tourney will hopefully prove a good final tune-up by giving the squad a sneak peek at the single elimination format for this weekend’s play. With plenty of practices during the two-week break to keep the rust off of those forehand and backhand swings, Chicago’s biggest hurdle at the UAAs will be getting back their game faces.

“We haven’t played for a while so we just have to make sure we’re ready to go and have the right mindset Friday morning,” head coach Marty Perry said. “If we’re confident and feel like we’re ready to play, then hopefully we’ll do well enough to get through it and get some momentum for the second round.”

The team’s long season has provided lots of valuable playing time, which should help dull the edge of the lack of competition in the last few weeks. With 20 regular season matches under their belts to develop the green first-years, the Maroons have built up a strong sense of team unity along with a lot of confidence.

“I think the team has really come together, and they play and compete extremely hard. As long as they continue to do that, I think we’ll have a good chance to do well,” Perry said.

“One specific thing I think our team has developed is chemistry on the court. When we are in competition, although we are all on separate courts, we cheer for one another constantly and play with that same camaraderie,” Rajamani said. “All of our doubles teams have great chemistry. There is always high-fiving and communication between points. It may not seem important, but chemistry is key to having success on a tennis team.”

Trying to keep the pressure off the squad, Perry set the goal at finishing the tournament in third. This roster has what it takes to push past last year’s fourth-place standing and continue the Maroons’ climb up the podium after taking seventh in 2003 and sixth in 2004. Chicago especially hopes for a second crack at second-seed Carnegie Melon (13–5) to whom they fell 5–4 February 11. If they get past the Tartans, they will likely face off against Emory (11–6), who has reigned supreme over the UAA as the league champs since the start of the UAA in 1987.

The Maroons won’t mess with a good thing entering the tourney. The team will feature the same lineup that has crushed their foes time and time again this year. Opening the day with doubles for the team will most likely be the killer combo of Dayananda and third-year Ade Omodele-Lucien (19–6) at first, the dynamic duo of Parikh and Williams (16–8) at second, and last but not least, Rajamani and fourth-year Annie Miller (12–4) at third. Wrapping up the match with singles and hopefully knocking the final nails in opponents’ coffins will be Dayananda (17–8) at first, Omodele-Lucien (10–11) at second, Parikh (18–7) at third, Williams (16–6) at fourth, Miller (19–6) at fifth, and third-year Jackie Colvin (11–5) at sixth. The only likely tweak to the scorecard would occur if Parikh’s calf strain keeps her on the sidelines.