The women’s tennis team’s players are exactly who we thought they were: unintimidated by higher seeds, unfazed by the pressure of playing on the national stage, and, at times, simply unstoppable.
But the magic ran out Wednesday afternoon, as Chicago was simply unable to finish off a talented, top-ranked Amherst squad that came back from an early deficit to beat the Maroons 5–4. The loss eliminated Chicago from contention for the national championship. The Maroons will play their final team match of the season today, against Emory, in the tournament's third-place match.
“I think we fought really hard…from the minute the match started until it ended,” fourth-year Vindya Dayananda said. “It’s just that Amherst was a better team today. On any given day, the outcome could have been different. The girls, I have to say though, they tried really hard.”
First-year Kendra Higgins and second-year Chrissy Hu gave Chicago an early advantage after ousting the two-time reigning doubles National Champion, Brittany Berckes, and her partner, Natasha Brown, at one doubles. With first-year Jennifer Kung and Dayananda winning 8–2 at two doubles, the Maroons looked strong heading into singles play holding a 2–1 advantage.
“There were points where Chrissy and I were just like, ‘Oh, what are we going to do?’ type of thing,” Higgins said of her one doubles match. “We had no idea where the match was going to go. We just played really aggressive, just played one ball at time, played really patient, and when we got the opportunity, we would attack, and it paid off.”
The nation’s top team, however, would not go quietly into the night.
The windy day saw the Jeffs strike back in singles play, taking convincing wins at four and six singles. Higgins remained perfect in NCAA play, outlasting Berckes in a three-setter, 6–1, 3–6, 6–2.
First-year Carmen VacaGuzman won in two sets at the third spot, but Dayananda was unable to climb out of an early hole, dropping her fifth singles match 6–4, 6–4. Then, with the match tied at four apiece and a ticket to the National Championship match on the line, all eyes turned to first-year Jennifer Kung on the two singles court.
After going ahead 5–2 in the first set, Kung allowed her opponent, Carlissa King, to string together five straight games, giving Amherst a one set lead in the deciding match.
Kung found herself serving a game back in the second set, 5–4, and King broke serve to shut the door on the match, ending Chicago’s run for the championship. The final point was decided on a double fault.
“Every point was fought hard. Jen played outstandingly; the girl was just a little better today,” Higgins said. “It basically came down to making the first error. It was one of those types of matches where you have to play high percentage tennis but still go for your shots…. She did the best she could, and that’s all we could ask for—it’s a team effort. She played her heart out….”
It was the 21st straight win for Amherst and a tough pill for the South Siders to swallow.
“It could have gone either way, but they just ended up sealing the deal,” Dayananda said. “It’s never fun to lose, but these girls took the loss very well. We’re already focusing on tomorrow; we’re just going to try to put today behind us because, still, the number three spot is up for grabs."
Making it to the third-place match means the Maroons have another date with their most familiar opponent, the third-ranked Emory Eagles. Emory, which lost 5–0 to Williams earlier Wednesday, has already topped Chicago twice this season.
“We’ve got to sort of forget that we’ve lost two matches, or else you go in thinking too much about what’s happened,” Dayananda said.
In their first meeting, Emory knocked off Chicago 5–4 on March 29. Four weeks later, the teams clashed again, and the Eagles once again edged the Maroons 5–4 in the semifinals of the UAA tournament. Chicago had match point twice in that contest but was unable to hang on. Thursday morning, the South Siders will be looking for a new result.
“I think the third time’s the charm. We’re going to do it. We get closer each time we play them, and with a lot of teams, I think they’re scared to play us," Higgins said. "They know we have the talent to beat them, they just don’t know it until they’re playing us. Hopefully we’ll just bring it tomorrow. Everybody is very energized; we really want to get third place tomorrow. We want to end the season right. Right now we’re ranked number four in the nation; we’d rather be ranked number three.”