April 24, 2007

Tennis takes third at UAAs

With the stakes raised at this year’s league championship, women’s tennis one-upped its 2006 performance, but it may not have been enough to give the young squad its final push into NCAAs. With the possible exception of a few individual players, the Maroons will most likely find themselves on the outside looking in when NCAA bids are announced April 30.

Led by last season’s UAA Rookie of the Year, second-year Vindya Dayananda, the 26th-ranked Maroons (11–8) climbed from fourth to third in the conference standings with a 6–3 win over NYU (10–7) Sunday. Chicago opened the tournament with a 9–0 blanking of sixth-seeded Brandeis (8–6) but then fell 6–3 to 18th-ranked and second-seeded Carnegie Mellon (12–8), losing out on a chance to challenge ninth-ranked Emory (13–8) for the title and a clear shot at making a repeat trip to Nationals. The Eagles tamed the Tartans in the final to remain unbeaten all-time against UAA competition.

“The way of the new election process, I’d be very surprised if we go,” head coach Marty Perry said. “You basically have to win your conference now, and this year a bunch of nationally-ranked teams will be going after eight bids.”

After the number of NCAA bids available for all pool B hopefuls dropped from eight to seven this year, the Maroons needed to prove they belonged among the nation’s best with a strong showing in Cleveland this weekend against some top-notch competitors. The team strode out on the right foot, ruling out the Judges with an overpowering effort all the way down the lineup. Chicago won each of its solo matches in straight sets, with Dayananda (18–6) setting the tone for her perfect 3–0 mark at the tourney with a 6–3, 6–0 victory over third-year Ana Katz (8–8) at second.

“I’m not all that surprised that she won all of her matches,” Perry said. “Her toughest match came against Carnegie Mellon, but after losing the first match, she really dominated.”

Equally effective in tandems play, Dayananda paired up once again with rookie phenom Marissa Lin at first doubles, and the pair went undefeated on the weekend. Posting clean victories all the way, the duo improved their season record to 14–8 with an 8–1 win over Brandeis, followed by 8–2 and 8–1 crushings of the Tartans and Violets.

“You couldn’t ask for anything better,” Perry said. “Carnegie number-one doubles is one of the best in the country, and I think they handled them very well. At the beginning of the season, they had some trouble finishing up at the net, but they’ve gotten over that reluctance of coming in at the net and gotten more comfortable up there.”

While the two, along with an 8–3 victory from the squad’s winningest combo of fourth-year Ade Omodele-Lucien and second-year Anuja Parikh (16–5), gave Chicago a 2–1 edge in the semifinals against Carnegie, the team struggled to seal the deal in singles competition. Dayananda pulled out the lone Chicago victory, rebounding from a 0–6 loss in the opening set to claim the next two 6–0, 6–2 from fourth-year Mona Iye (15–10). Playing at the third spot, Omodele-Lucien put up a long fight but came out on the losing end of a 0–6, 6–3, 1–0 (10–5) battle, as the rest of the Maroons went down in straight sets.

The 6–3 loss sent Chicago to face NYU for third while the Tartans went on to the championship round with Emory, the league’s undisputed champion. Now with 20 consecutive titles, the Eagles have been perched atop the conference with a talon-tight hold on the first-place trophy since the UAA formed in 1988.

“They’ve got a good coach who’s been there a couple of years, they recruit very well, and they can play outdoors year-round,” said Perry of Emory’s dominance in tennis. “This was definitely the year that they were beatable, though.”

With the Eagles clinching their next banner with a 6–3 win over the Tartans, the Maroons again snuck out in front with a 2–1 lead over the Violets after doubles. This time around, though, the South Siders wouldn’t let the match slip away on the singles end.

Cutting quickly through the Violets, Chicago claimed three of its four victories in straight sets. In the only match of the contest to reach the third set, Parikh outlasted third-year Holly Smith at the fourth spot. Parikh fell behind with a 3–6 decision in the opener but turned things around to take the next two 6–4, 1–0 (10–6), while the Maroons went on for the 6–3 win and a third-place finish.

Although this season’s outing in Cleveland marks an improvement over last year’s UAA showing, Chicago will have to hold off on buying tickets for NCAAs with a revised selection process that virtually eliminates at-large bids. Dayananda and Lin could still represent the squad in singles or as a tandem. Team qualifiers will be announced Monday with individual bids released Tuesday.

“Beginning of the year, we need some time to find our team chemistry and come together. That probably didn’t really happen until the Midwest Invite,” said Perry of the season. “We really came together this weekend, and the girls played extremely hard and put their hearts into it. We really finished strong, and you couldn’t ask for better.”