April 22, 2008

Eagles deny women's tennis

Traveling to Wash U for the UAA Championship Tournament, the Maroons knew they would likely have to knock off powerhouse Emory for a shot at the title.

After a 6–3 victory over Brandeis gave Chicago its chance on Saturday, injuries to key players meant that an upset would not be in the cards. The Eagles stopped the South Siders with a 6–3 win before a 6–3 loss to Wash U left Chicago with a fourth-place finish.

In an uncharacteristic first-round match, Chicago dominated Brandeis by triumphing in singles after faltering at doubles. Claiming the Maroons’ only doubles win, first-year Chrissy Hu and second-year Justine Kentla won 8–5 in the second slot as their teammates dropped an 8–6 decision at first and an 8–2 one at third. Entering singles play in a hole, the squad clinched five out of six matches to advance to the semifinals.

The three-point margin, however, might be a misleading representation of one of Chicago’s longest outings this season, in which four singles matches took a full three sets to decide. Both second-year Marissa Lin and third-year Anuja Parikh won their matches in the third set after suffering 1–6 defeats in the first. Lin was rusty after hitting only once in two weeks in order to recover from a knee injury sustained three weeks ago against Wash U.

“They match up well against us, because their one and two are really good, and we haven’t had much success at five and six all year,” head coach Marty Perry said. “It’s been tough to win at these positions this year, so every match for us is exciting, and nothing’s easy, but we pulled it out. It could have been 5–4 Brandeis very easily, but we played well, we played hard, and we’re used to those close matches.”

Drawing Emory in the second round, Chicago failed to hand the Eagles their first UAA tournament loss in the history of the conference, but with a 6–3 score, the Maroons managed to win more matches against the eventual champions than any other squad. Heading into the semifinal, the Maroons were well aware of their underdog status.

“We had nothing to lose [against Emory],” Perry said. “Getting past Brandeis was a big release, and we felt really excited. We hadn’t played them yet. We lost a tight match to DePauw, and they had a tight win over DePauw, so we thought we could do well.”

Chicago found itself in an early hole after the first and third doubles squads of Lin and Dayananda and Parikh and Walters suffered convincing 8–3 defeats. A first doubles win had been a key part of the Maroons’ strategy for KO-ing the Eagles, and the loss put a damper on Chicago’s upset bid. However, edging out second-year Jenny Moscato and first-year Kirsten Hillock 8–6, Hu and Kentla kept the Maroons within striking distance with their second doubles victory.

Facing off against second-year All-American Tshema Nash, ranked 18th in singles, Lin had her work cut out for her in a match that was critical to a Chicago win. Nash drew first blood in the opening set, grabbing a 6–4 victory. Taking the next set into an extra game, Lin still couldn’t come out on top, as Nash won 7–5.

Despite Lin’s loss, two other top players managed to knock off their opponents. Using extra games to win her first set 7–5, Hu secured the victory at third singles with a 6–4 mark in the next set. Meanwhile, Dayananda overcame a painful shoulder injury for a 6–4, 6–2 triumph over Hillock in the second slot.

Chicago’s other losses weren’t as close, as the South Siders continued to have difficulty securing wins in the lower rankings. Kentla fell 6–2, 6–2, Parikh dropped a 6–3, 6–0 decision, and Moscato blanked first-year Cristina Simpetru 6–0, 6–0.

“We came up short at first singles and first doubles against Emory,” Perry said. “That’s all it really boiled down to. Both Vindya and Marissa were really banged up and couldn’t serve well with nagging injuries, so [Emory] just jumped on us. We played hard, we played with a lot of emotion, and after the tournament was complete, we gave Emory the toughest match, so I felt good about that.”

With the Maroons out of the way, the Eagles went on to face Carnegie Mellon in the title match, squashing the Tartans 8–1 to continue their conference undefeated streak.

Meanwhile, Chicago readied itself to face Wash U in a third-place grudge match, after two hard-fought matches had the rivals at 1–1 on the year. With a win, the Maroons could repeat their bronze finish in the conference, earned with a 6–3 win over NYU last spring in Cleveland.

However, Dayananda’s shoulder couldn’t hold up any longer after a weekend of tough play, and with Chrissy Hu battling a fever, Chicago was hobbled before the round began.

Starting off on the right foot, the Maroons took two out of three doubles matches, earning 8–4 and 8–5 decisions at first and second, while Parikh and second-year Jennifer Walters suffered a narrow 9–7 loss at third.

Entering singles with a one-match lead, the Maroons needed three wins to maintain their status on the UAA podium. Rebounding from her Emory loss, Lin won 6–4, 6–4, but it would prove to be the last singles victory in a team match this season for the South Siders. Kentla’s 7–5, 6–2 edging was the closest Chicago came to another win, but the squad’s other losses were more brutal as the athletes moved up to fill Dayananda’s absence. Walters suffered a 6–0, 6–0 blanking, while Parikh and first-year Elena Stratigakes each managed to win only one game.

Despite the loss, Chicago knows that its weakness lies in its depth, and with new recruits coming in and no seniors graduating, it can only hope to get stronger. While the team’s season is over, Lin and Dayananda have strong chances of reaching the NCAA tournament in singles and could make the cut in doubles, as well. The star tandem finds out their fate next Tuesday.