While many were relaxing, watching their March Madness bracket get busted, or stressing over their job applications, the women’s tennis team was hard at work in California. The team went to take in the sun and get some outdoor matches under its belt before returning to Wes and starting the 2016 NESCAC season. Prior to the start of the season, the Cardinals were ranked 17th in the preseason Division III poll, but after an impressive 3-1 start marked by wins against ranked opponents and only a single loss at the hands of perennial powerhouse Middlebury, the Redbirds jumped up the rankings and now find themselves sitting at eighth in the nation.
“The California trip was a great success on all fronts,” said head coach Michael Fried. “We acclimated to outdoor tennis, bonded and came together as a team, and had some excellent results, putting us in the top ten in the national rankings for the first time ever.”
During the morning of Thursday, March 10, the Cardinals opened the campaign with a convincing 8-1 win against the 20th-ranked team in the nation, Case Western University. Wes followed up with an equally dominating 7-2 victory over 18th-ranked University of Redlands, a California squad that the Cardinals defeated 5-4 last season. Between all the tennis and training, the Cards willingly carved out time to have dinner with President Michael Roth ’78, who was in California for a few days over the break. The Cardinals finished their west coast trip with yet another decisive victory by upsetting the tenth-ranked Bears from Washington University in St. Louis, 7-2.
“What stood out most in our matches was our fight,” Coach Fried said. “We competed with great heart and support for one another, and we began to really establish our identity as a gritty, ready to battle, team.”
The Cardinals returned to Wesleyan with an unblemished record and one more match on the schedule before resuming classes. Saturday, March 19 set up a clash of two top-ten teams with the Cards taking on the talented, powerful Panthers of Middlebury. After the three doubles matches wrapped up, the Cardinals found themselves down 2-1 heading into the singles portion of the contest.
While Eudice Chong ’18 remained undefeated on the season and dispatched her opponent with relative ease, 7-5, 6-2, the rest of the Cardinals were unable to overcome their opponents. Despite their determined efforts, the Cards fell to the Panthers, 7-2.
“The Middlebury match was a tough one,” Fried said. “We had a couple of momentum swings go against us and did not do a good enough job of swinging things back in our favor. At the same time, they are a perennial top-5 or top-10 national team, and we came away feeling like we can compete at that level and very much deserve to be in that mix.”
Despite receiving a loss, the Cardinals ended break with a strong 3-1 start to the season. They now sit at their highest national ranking in program history, and have clearly sent a message to the rest of the conference that they are a force to be reckoned with.
“We are very pleased with the start to our season,” Fried said. “We are playing well and improving and looking forward to the rest of the season. There are five NESCAC teams ranked in the top-eight in the country, and we are excited for the heart of our season and to go up against the best.”
Of those five, the Cardinals currently rank the lowest at number eight, but as Coach Fried said, the heart of the season lies ahead. The Cardinals are off this coming weekend, but will use the time to get outside and acclimate themselves to the Connecticut climate which is certainly different from that of California.
The Cardinals’ next match comes on Saturday, April 2, at Conn. College, a team the Cards have defeated in their four most recent encounters. This match will be a good test for the Cardinals as they get ready for one of their biggest matches of the season, occurring the following day when they have their home opener against second-ranked Bowdoin at 10:00 am.
“We are looking forward to the Conn College match next weekend and getting good match experience in preparation for No. 2 ranked Bowdoin the next day,” Fried said.