The fifth-seeded women’s tennis team made a valiant effort to upset fourth-seeded Bowdoin in the NESCAC tournament at Middlebury this past weekend. The match could not have been tighter, as it came down to the final set of the final match (sixth singles), which went in favor of the Polar Bears. In March, the Cards fell 7-2 to the Polar Bears during their California trip, so this close 5-4 defeat indicates a massively improved Cardinal squad showing promise for the seasons to come.
The NESCAC is by many accounts the toughest tennis league in the country, so even an early tournament bow-out finish for the Cards is incredibly impressive. Bowdoin entered the match ranked eighth in Division III, while Wesleyan stood at seventeenth. To be sure, the task was tall for the Cardinals, but both strategy and superlative play brought them incredibly close to victory.
The squad came out of doubles play, which occurs before singles play in tennis matches, with a 2-1 lead. A new pairing at first doubles of Eudice Chong ’18 and Aashli Budhiraja ’18 won comfortably, 8-2. In a strategy switch for the Cardinals, Chong’s usual first doubles partner, Helen Klass-Warch ’18, traded places with Budhiraja, moving to third doubles with Dasha Dubinsky ’18. The move worked, with Dubinsky and Klass-Warch taking their match 8-4.
In between, the second doubles pairing of Nicole McCann ’18 and Captain Anna Howard ’15 lost control of their match toward the end. Leading for large portions of the match, the duo lost two straight games, squandering a 7-6 advantage and making it 8-7 in favor of their Bowdoin opponents. Resilient, the Cards tied the match at 8 after winning the next game, which sent the match into a tiebreaker. They managed to obtain a 10-9 lead and were on the brink of victory, before faltering and conceding the match, 13-11.
Riding a 2-1 lead after the doubles matches, the Cardinals needed three singles victories to take the match. Chong continued her amazing first season, winning 6-0, 6-1 at first singles, pushing the Cards’ lead to 3-1. The dominant Chong thus completed the year with a perfect 13-0 dual-match record.
In a massive momentum shift, Klass-Warch, Budhiraja, and McCann then fell at second, third, and fourth singles to make the match 4-3 in Bowdoin’s favor. This reassertion of dominance is indicative of the Polar Bears’ depth, part of what made them such a strong team this season.
At this point, the Cardinals had to take both of the final matches, fifth and sixth singles. It looked as if Dubinsky, at fifth singles, was down for the count after dropping the first set 6-0, but she made a stunning recovery, winning the second set in a tie-breaker and then dominating the deciding set 6-0, evening the match score at 4-4 heading into the final match.
Sixth singles looked to be following the same, Disney-style script for the Cards, as Howard dropped the first set 6-3 but then shattered her opponent 6-0 in the second, carrying all the momentum into the final set. Unfortunately, her Polar Bear opponent regained her composure and took the third comfortably, 6-1, earning a victory for Bowdoin.
It was thus that the 11-4 Cardinals ended their campaign. Chong was undefeated throughout the whole season, and Dubinsky had the second-best singles record, ending the year 10-5. In doubles, the Cardinals excelled, finishing with 35 wins and only 10 losses. Chong and Klass-Warch went 12-2 at first doubles, Dubinsky and Budhiraja went 10-4, mostly at third doubles, and McCann and Howard went 9-4, mainly at second doubles.
Chong’s incredible season is set to continue, as her superlative talents and record should without a doubt qualify her for the individual Division III Championships, which will be held in Mason, Ohio in two weeks time. Klass-Warch may well join Chong to participate with her in doubles nationals.