When we all thought spring and the warm weather had finally arrived, Mother Nature decided to play a little April Fool’s joke and drop a nice dusting of snow and cold temperatures that forced the women’s tennis team to postpone its match at Conn. College. The match was moved from April 2 to April 28. Also, due to the weather, the Cards transitioned indoors to Bacon Field House and held their home opener against Bowdoin on Sunday, April 3.
Even indoors, the atmosphere was electric. The Cards, coming off a strong spring training trip that led them to the eighth spot in the national rankings, looked to upset the Polar Bears, the number two team in the nation. Heading into Sunday’s match, the Cards had not beaten the Polar Bears since September of 2000; however, the Birds nearly pulled off the upset at last season’s NESCAC tournament, only falling a few points short before succumbing to the Polar Bears, 5-4. This early season match between two top-10 teams was set up to be a highly contested battle to the end, and it did not disappoint. Despite the Cardinals’ efforts, the Polar Bears once again were able to squeeze out a 5-4 win.
“That was the number two team in the nation, so playing them to 5-4 was a big accomplishment for us,” said Captain Maddie James ’16. “I think we definitely saw some things we need to work on, mentally, and we gained more confidence knowing that we can play with highly ranked teams in the nation.”
The five-and-a-half-hour marathon match opened with first, second, and third doubles at 10 a.m. Eudice Chong ’18 and Aashli Budhiraja ’18 dropped the opening game at number one, but quickly rebounded. The pair of sophomores dominated the opposition over the next half hour to take the match 8-2 and give the Cardinals their first team win of the day. The number two and three doubles matches were more evenly matched and closely contested. On court three, the Cardinals and Polar Bears each held serve until the Polar Bears broke the Cards in the ninth game at number three. The Cardinals would go on to win only one more game as the Polar Bears tied up the overall match score at 1-1 with an 8-5 victory at number three doubles.
Of all the doubles matches, second doubles was the closest of the day. Despite being down an early break, Victoria Yu ’19 and Nicole McCann ’18 continued to fight hard for the Cards. Down 6-7 in games, the Cards had a chance to get back on serve and shift the momentum of the match heading into the singles round. Break point after break point, the Polar Bears thwarted the Cardinals’ efforts and got it back to deuce, until eventually on their fourth match point, the Polar Bears put away the Cards for good. This result finished the doubles portion and gave Bowdoin a 2-1 lead before heading into the top-six singles matches.
The top-four seeds took to the courts with numbers five and six cheering on their teammates as they awaited the first available courts. Many watched in anticipation as Chong, the number-one seed, warmed up to face Joulia Likhanskaia of Bowdoin, whom Chong defeated 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 in the final of last season’s DIII Individual Championships. Chong went out firing and claimed the first set comfortably, 6-1. In the second, the two players continued to hold serve, until Chong finally broke Likhanskaia at 5-4, thus allowing Chong to serve out for the match.
With Chong’s 6-1, 6-4 victory, the Cardinals had knotted the match score at two, but Yu, Helen Klass-Warch ’18, and McCann all found themselves down a set at numbers two, three, and four, respectively. Just moments after Chong’s win, Klass-Warch fell in the second set to put the Polar Bears back on top at 3-2. The Polar Bears quickly followed with a win at four, and now needed just one win out of the three remaining matches to seal the victory.
With the fifth and sixth positions just getting underway, everyone turned their attention to court two, where Yu had battled back to take the second set, 6-4, and send the match to a decisive third game. Budhiraja and Dasha Dubinsky ’18 dropped their first sets, 5-7 and 6-7 in a tiebreak, respectively, but both fought back to level their matches at one set a piece. Unfortunately, the comeback had come to an end by that point as Yu lost 6-3 in the third. Budhiraja and Dubinsky would go on to claim two more victories for the Cards, thus settling the final tally at a tight 5-4.
Following the match, Head Coach Mike Fried commented on how he thought the team played.
“There were flashes of really good tennis, and I think in spots we played very well on all courts,” Fried said. “A couple courts it was a bit more complete, with high-level tennis from start to finish, whereas on some other courts, these matches exposed some areas that we know we have to keep working on very hard.”
The Cardinals will have a week to prepare for their upcoming Little Three match at Williams on Sunday, April 10, and will be looking to improve on the areas of their game that the Polar Bears exposed.
“Playing through nerves is a big [area of work],” Fried said. “We need to transition from baseline to net and take advantage of offensive opportunities that we are creating and have the confidence to kind of move forward and finish points with conviction.”
Although the Cards have never beaten the Ephs before, Sunday’s performance has given the Birds the confidence they will need as they look to take down the number one nationally ranked team next weekend.
“Williams is number one in the nation, so we are definitely excited to play them, especially after this result,” James said.