Over the past week, the women’s tennis team has been logging plenty of hours on the road. Playing back-to-back Saturday and Sunday matches on enemy turf with a Thursday home match squeezed in between, the Cardinals emerged from the toughest stretch of their schedule boasting a 3-2 record. Of the five matches played in a span of eight days, all but one was against a top-15 ranked opponent.
The Cardinals kicked off this stretch by traveling to Boston on Saturday, April 15 to take on then-No. 7 Tufts. After the Jumbos took an early 2-1 lead in doubles, the Cardinals found themselves in a hole entering singles play. To counter Eudice Chong ’18 winning in convincing fashion at the number one position and Dasha Dubinsky ’18’s three-set comeback win at six singles, the Jumbos won two close three-set victories at the number two and three positions. Tufts also recorded victories on courts four and five en route to a 6-3 win over the Cards.
Despite a tough loss, the Cardinals had to regroup quickly and refocus. Back on Tufts’ courts the following day, the Cardinals were slated to take on the defending national champions and current No. 1 Emory University. The contest had been one of the most highly anticipated since the start of the season, as the two programs had never faced one another in dual-match play. It would be a chance for the Cardinals to really see how they stacked up against the nation’s best.
“We came into the [Emory] match having no expectations and kept the energy extremely high throughout,” said Chong. “We made sure to stay focused on our own matches but at the same time kept cheering for everyone else on the court.”
The tone of a long and highly competitive match was set from the start of doubles play. The opening doubles matches pitted the nation’s fourth best duo in Chong and Victoria Yu ’19 against Emory’s number one nationally ranked pair. In a hard-fought match, Chong and Yu remained undefeated, winning 8-6. The Eagles of Emory fought back to knot the match at 1-1 with a decisive 8-2 win at the number two doubles. With the match level, the final doubles match went to the wire. Facing the No. 24 ranked doubles pairing, the all-junior team of Helen Klass-Warch and Nicole McCann played impeccable tennis to win the contest, 8-6. Finishing doubles play up 2-1, the Cardinals hoped to carry the momentum into singles play.
Knowing that in order to pull off the upset they were going to need to play some of their best tennis of all year, the Cardinals set to work on the singles courts. Even as a two-time national champion, Chong—currently ranked third overall in singles—was considered an underdog, facing an Emory opponent who remains the number one ranked singles player in the country. Despite the numbers not being in their favor on paper, the Cardinals were determined to leave everything they had on the court. Although the Eagles recorded straight set wins on the bottom three singles courts, it was the Cardinals’ top third of the ladder that proved to be the difference in the match. At number one and number two singles, Chong and Yu dominated their opponents and claimed a pair of key victories for the Cards, but it was Aashli Budhiraja ’18’s performance on court three that stood out above all. Taking on the 22nd-ranked singles player in the nation, Budhiraja put together a virtuosic performance that culminated in 6-0, 6-4 clinch. Through a remarkable team effort, the Cardinals pulled off a major upset.
“Our win against Emory happened so fast and it didn’t really sink in until later,” Chong said. “The win was huge, and it shows how our team is right there with the number one team in the country.”
Basking in the glory of the big win, the Cardinals returned to their home courts for senior day on Thursday, April 20, where they battled Conn College. Honoring Ella Lindholm-Uzzi ’17, the lone senior on the roster, the Cardinals made quick and easy work of the Camels en route to a 9-0 sweep.
“Being a senior on this team has been so amazing,” Lindholm-Uzzi said. “Watching the program and team grow to what it is now is truly unbelievable and such a special thing to be a part of. My Wesleyan experience would never have been the same without the team and [head coach] Mike Fried.”
Following the win, the Cards hit the road on Saturday, April 22 to take on Little Three-rival Amherst, a team the Cardinals had not bested since 1981. Despite the Mammoths’ dominance throughout the two programs’ historic rivalry, the Cards outplayed the Mammoths, winning the match 7-2.
“The win was incredible,” Lindholm-Uzzi said. “Although we were higher ranked, we knew it would be a huge battle. They are an incredibly strong team and we knew they would bring it on every court. Although any win is positive, the decisiveness of it really cemented the programs’ growth over the past couple years and even decades.”
After the win at Amherst, the Cardinals headed to Vermont to take on third-ranked Middlebury on Sunday, April 23. After going up 2-1 in doubles, the Cardinals seemed poised to tally their fourth consecutive victory, but the Panthers had other ideas. In singles, the Panthers showed resilience, taking five out of the six matches and winning the overall contest by a score of 6-3.
“We started off with a 2-1 lead after the doubles and had the momentum swinging on our way,” Chong said. “We kept fighting till the very end, but Midd. did well to keep its energy high and managed to win some big points to change the match around.”
The Cards have a much-needed week of rest, recovery, and practice as they prepare for their regular season finale at Bates on Saturday, April 29.
“Our team has been working very hard during all our practices, and we’re taking what we didn’t do well this week and working on making it better against Bates,” Chong said. “Most of the team is pretty banged up from the consecutive matches, so hopefully we’ll take it easier so our bodies are ready to compete well next weekend.”