After suffering a narrow 5-4 loss against then second-ranked Bowdoin on Sunday, April 3, the women’s tennis team had high expectations heading into its match this week against defending Division III national champion and Little Three rival Williams. The Cardinals hoped to notch their first win against the Ephs in program history. While the Birds put forth a valiant effort, they were once again thwarted as the Ephs emerged victorious, with a 5-1 decision. With the loss, the Cards fall to 3-3 on the season and remain winless against NESCAC opponents.
“I think the team came out really fired up, especially since Williams is a rival,” said captain Maddie James ’16. “It’s always fun and exciting to play a top team in the nation, particularly when you feel like you can compete with them on every court, which we definitely did.”
The match started off following standard protocol with doubles action taking center stage. The dynamic duo of Eudice Chong ’18 and Aashli Budhiraja ’18 at number one doubles put the Cardinals on the board first after a 9-8 highly competitive win that was decided by a tiebreaker. The Cardinals, however, did not fare as well on courts two and three, which in part could be attributed to the fact that this was the first competitive action for these newly reconfigured pairings. Each duo has only been playing together for about a week.
At two doubles, Victoria Yu ’19 was joined by teammate Dasha Dubinsky ’18, while Helen Klass-Warch ’18 and Nicole McCann ’18 represented the Cards at three. While the change may not have proved successful on Saturday, these new pairings have the potential to cause a lot of problems for future opponents in the weeks ahead.
“I think Eudice and Aashli played a very clean match at 1,” said Head Coach Mike Fried. “We changed the pairings of our two and three doubles teams for the first time this year, and I think that is always a tough prospect without a lot of time to acclimate to playing together. We worked on it this week in practice, but I think doubles teams rely a lot on chemistry and that comes from spending quite a bit of time together on the court. We just thought it might benefit us to move some things around, and I hope that as both those teams get a chance to spend some more time on the court together, that the spark we think is there is in fact there, but you know it is a tricky situation practicing for a week and then having your first go around against the defending national champs.”
Heading into singles, the Cardinals found themselves down 2-1. Despite their efforts, they were never able to draw even with the perennial powerhouse. The Ephs took the next three matches, and before the Cardinals knew it, the matches had been decided, 5-1. The straight-set wins came at first, fifth, and sixth singles for Williams. When play halted, second singles for Wesleyan was down 1-2 in the third set, third singles for the Cardinals was up 5-4, and fourth singles had just started, with the Ephs taking the opening and only game of the match.
“Williams has always been a top team; they have a lot of solid players and a really deep lineup, and I think they just have a culture of wining,” James stated. “But it’s exciting and cool to see how close we are with top teams like Williams. When I was a freshman, the matches against Williams were not close at all, so its really amazing to see how far the program has come since then. We are actually competing with top teams in the nation and I think our matches with teams like Williams will only continue to get closer.”
For the first time in her career at Wesleyan, Chong, the number one player, was unable to record a victory in singles for the Cardinals, twice falling 6-4. Despite the fact that the overall match score was 5-1 and the contest was not even fully played, the Cardinals never gave up hope of pulling off the upset. Over the past few years, the Cardinals have developed into a highly competitive program, hanging with the strongest teams in and out of the NESCAC. Rather than getting trampled, they can now assess their weaknesses and continuously improve as they steadily take that next step toward elite program status.
“I hope this lights a fire under us to realize that there’s work to be done and we can’t be complacent,” Fried said. “If we’re really going to walk the walk in terms of meaning what we say with our goal of winning a national championship, whenever that may come, I think that this was a good match to show that we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
These next several days will be a pivotal stretch of the season for the Cardinals, as they play three matches over the course of four days. Starting Saturday, April 16, the Cards look to right the ship and record their first conference win of the season when they travel to Clinton, New York to take on Hamilton, a team they have beaten ten consecutive times. Next, the team is back on the bus as the Cards make their way to Amherst to face the Purple and White. Upon returning to campus, the Cardinals will have a day off before they host Bates on Tuesday, April 19 at 3 p.m.
While every match is important and every win counts in the record books and conference standings, a win against Amherst, a team the Cardinals have beaten only once in 36 meetings, would surely rank among the greatest wins in the program’s history.
“A win against Amherst would be huge for us,” James said. “As part of the Little Three, Amherst and Williams are always two of the biggest and most exciting matches of our season, and I think this year could be our year to beat Amherst. I think a win against them would really prove that we are a team to be reckoned with and will solidify our place as a top team in the nation.”