The women’s tennis team lost 7-2 to Middlebury this past Sunday. Although the loss completes the squad’s first pair of back-to-back losses, it represents improvement from last year’s outing against the Panthers, which resulted in a one-sided 9-0 defeat. Captain Nicki Softness ’14 attributes the change to a transition in the tennis culture at Wes.
“We’re in the middle of a big transition period… Ever since Mike [Fried came] on as coach, it’s becoming a serious program, it’s becoming competitive,” Softness said. “Every year we get new players that are serious players…. I definitely think that next year, when we have a lot of freshmen coming in that are very talented, the people that are on the team this year are going to continue on with these new players. We will be even better. It’s very cool to be a part of it.”
The competition was not without exciting matches, especially the two victories for Wes. The first of the day was a comeback victory for doubles partners Anna Howard ’15 and Clare DuBrin ’16. After falling behind 1-5, Howard and DuBrin were able to string six games together, taking a 7-5 lead. Middlebury would respond with two consecutive wins of its own, but the Redbird duo won the next game, thereby completing the comeback with the final score of 9-7.
Howard credits their win to a strong coaching staff who gave them key advice when the match looked like it was going to end in a loss.
“We got some coaching…to fix things that we should do to be able to combat their offense,” Howard said. “They were playing very offensively. They were very good at net. So it was about how to keep it away from the net player. We started hitting more lobs and deeper balls, so then we could play more aggressively at the net.”
The doubles win put Wesleyan within striking distance of coming away with a victory at the end of the day, but a series of lopsided singles losses prevented the Cardinals from pulling off an upset against the Panthers, currently ranked 10th in the nation. The Cardinals came away with another comeback win from their captain Softness.
Softness lost her first set, falling 3-6. However, she did not let the opening set affect her concentration, as she edged herself past her opponent in the second set, 6-4, and forced a decisive tie-breaker set. This spring, Softness has found herself in the heat of several tiebreaker sets. Her most recent tiebreaker represented her fourth of the season. Although her first two tiebreakers were forced by her opponent and resulted in two wins, the third one was forced by Softness and ended in a loss. Nonetheless, she did not let her past affect her current play, and she came away with a win after a back-and-forth tiebreaker set.
After facing two match points that would have cost her the game, Softness scored three consecutive points and won the match 3-6, 6-4, (12-10).
“It was the most fun I have ever had playing tennis…. I was just having fun, so I played better than I normally do,” said Softness.
The team’s defeat sets the Cardinals further back to a 2-4 NESCAC record and a 4-7 overall record. However, Wesleyan’s future is looking bright, as they have several favorable matchups on the horizon. The first will be this Wednesday, April 16 against Connecticut College, who the Redbirds handily beat last year, winning 7-2. Although the squad will have to travel to New London to face the Camels, Wesleyan hasn’t lost to its NESCAC rivals since 2011.