May 20, 2011

Chicago chases title dream in California

After not allowing any team to win a match at the NCAAs regional action this past weekend, the 19–3 Chicago women’s tennis team looks to continue their success at the NCAA D-III national quarterfinal, as they face a Denison squad which boasts an 18–4 record. They play this Tuesday in Claremont, CA.

While both teams have had a large amount of success this entire season, the Maroons are the clear favorites to win the match. Chicago has faced Denison twice this season, easily winning both times. In March 5 semifinal clash at the ITA Team Indoor Championships, Chicago cruised to a 7–2 victory. In their most recent meeting, the Maroons won 5–1 at the Midwest Invitational final. Even with all of this, the South Siders do not want to look straight ahead to the semifinal and past Denison.

“Even though we’ve always come out ahead from a match against Denison, we know that they are a tough team,” third-year Tiffany Nguyen said. “We know that we just need to keep our heads down and compete hard to give ourselves the best chance to win the match.”

To have a three-peat against Denison, and more importantly make the national semifinal for the third year in a row, the Maroons need to maintain focus and put the pressure of being favorites out of their minds. Individual players have already begun to garner this mentality.

“For me, personally, I just need to work on my mental toughness on staying in the point,” second-year Linden Li said. “My goal for next week is to just let loose, and play the game.”

It will be important for the Maroons to execute in the bottom of the lineup at singles. In both matches this season, Chicago has lost to Denison at the number five singles spot. However, in both matches, fourth-year Chrissy Hu was not playing. Hu boasts a nearly unstoppable 10–2 record at number five singles and is probable on having a full recovery and return to both doubles and singles on Tuesday after only playing doubles on Sunday.

“Chrissy [Hu] is feeling better, and we all hope that she will be playing next week in both singles and doubles,” Li said.

If Hu is able to make a comeback in both singles and doubles, it is easy to say that the Maroons will make a return to the national quarterfinal on Wednesday, where they will likely face the three-time defending national champion Williams (19–3) squad. Given their history at the tournament, Williams is favored to win.

However, the Maroons upset Williams recently on March 25, winning a tight 6–3. Despite Hu being in the lineup, three singles matches went into a third set, where the Maroons won two out of those three matches. The other two losses came at number four and number six singles. Yet, Chicago took commanding wins in all three doubles matches. To defeat Williams again, doubles victories are a must.

“I think the key to winning this match will be doubles. Last time when we played [Williams], we went up 3–0 after doubles, and I think that was very important as it gave us more confidence and momentum going into singles,” third-year Jennifer Kung said.

Even with three points at doubles, the Maroons will still need two singles wins to clinch a spot in the national title match, a feat Chicago has never accomplished. Beyond the fundamentals, mental toughness will decide a winner and a loser, given that both teams are evenly matched.

“We will have to dig down deep, as every person in the lineup will have to focus on their own match. We have the raw talent; it is just the matter of who will actually show it that day. We know we can do it,” Li said.

The Maroons play Denison this Tuesday. If they reach the semifinal, they will likely play Williams on Wednesday. If they pull the upset, the national title match will be held on Thursday.