This past Saturday, April 19, the women’s tennis team fell to the Amherst Lord Jeffs 9-0 on the road, a team ranked fourth in the nation. Wes did not win a single set. In fact, only Captain Grace Smith ’14 was able to keep it close during the first of her two singles sets, as she lost 6-4, 6-2. Others, such as Clare DuBrin ’15 and Olivia Koh ’17, were not able to win a single game: both of them double-bageled with 6-0, 6-0 results. The result puts the Redbirds’ NESCAC record at 3-5 and overall record at 5-8.
The defeat does not come as a surprise: Wesleyan has not been able to defeat its Little Three rival in nearly 35 years. Yet this year’s loss is different than those in the past, as the Cards are in what many, including Head Women’s Tennis Coach Mike Fried, are calling a transitional period for the women’s tennis program. Although the team will be losing key players, including both captains, seniors Smith and Nicki Softness, at the end of this year, the future looks bright for the program.
“While it’s certainly difficult to lose senior players and their leadership, particularly considering the great job Nicki and Grace did as captains, we have five girls arriving as freshmen in the fall, and together they comprise one of the top-five-ranked DIII recruiting classes in the country,” Fried said. “We’re very optimistic about the team’s future.”
Another sign of how the sands are shifting in Wesleyan’s favor is the possibility of playoff qualification, a feat that the Redbirds haven’t accomplished since 2008. Only the top six teams are eligible to participate in the postseason. The final match this year is Saturday, April 26 against Bates. Heading into the match, Wes is seventh in the NESCAC standings and Bates is sixth. Bates’ Bobcats will have to face an eighth-seeded Trinity on Friday, April 25. Even if the Trinity Bantams lose the match, the Cardinals control their own fate. Based on regional rankings, Wes (ranked 12th) is favored against Bates (ranked 14th). Although the women’s squad came up with a win against Bates last year, it was a close 6-3 victory.
The team will need to stay focused in order to secure the last seed in the playoffs. The leadership of Softness and Smith will be critical this week in preparation for the final match of the regular season. They will certainly have plenty of motivation as they try to make their first, and what would be their only, playoff appearance. Moreover, the two will look to extend what have been great tennis careers.
“I’ll miss tennis,” Softness said. “After I graduate, it will be hard to find places to play and people to play with. I’ll miss the bus rides; not the actual riding in the bus on the street, but the singing. I’ll miss the Bob Sweats. I’ll miss the safety of my teammates. I’ll miss the spirit day practices and our crazy outfits. I’ll miss singing the fight song with my team. I’ll miss high fiving everyone after line ups.”
This year, Wes was stuck in the middle of the ’Cac. The Cards were able to defeat middle- and lower-ranked teams, but were unable to compete against the top echelon. However, the squad has already made significant improvements from previous campaigns. The team’s goal next year is to move into the top level and change the culture of Cardinal tennis.
“With a key year of competing at a higher level under our belts, I think our returning team members will be tougher next year; and with an extremely strong recruiting class joining them, our goal is indeed to break through to that top level of NESCAC, and therefore national D III, tennis,” Fried said.
With a win against Bates, the Cardinals will certainly be moving in the direction Fried envisions.