The women’s tennis team sealed an incredible fourth NESCAC Championship crown in a row this past weekend with a 5–2 victory over Middlebury. The team became the first Wesleyan program in school history to win four straight NESCAC titles as they avenged their only regular season loss to the Panthers, claiming a resounding victory to tie the second-longest title run in NESCAC history and earn an automatic bid into the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
Head Coach Michael Fried emphasized how the match was a culmination of the hard work the team put in throughout the season to defeat top-seeded Middlebury.
“It was just so gratifying to see everything come together,” Fried said. “It’s come together a lot throughout the year, but to see it under those conditions and with that kind of pressure, and to the only team that had beaten us during the year, not only to play at the level that the team did, but to rise to the moment and be in the moment both on their own courts and for each other, it was something pretty special in terms of just the whole presence that they had, even well beyond whatever the result was.”
The Cardinals began their title defense with the quarterfinal matchup against seventh-seeded Hamilton College on Friday, April 28. Katie Fleischman ’23 and Sasha Gaeth ’23 took a dominating 8–0 win at #3 doubles to kick off the morning, though Hamilton tied up the team score with a win at #2 doubles.
Renna Mohsen-Breen ’25 and Sarah Youngberg ’26 brought in another doubles victory for the Cards before both players won their singles matches. The clinching point came from Fleischman at #4 singles, allowing the Red and Black to seal a 5–1 victory over the Continentals to advance to the semifinals.
The next day, the Cards took on third-seeded Amherst in a rematch of the 2022 Championship semifinals. The Cardinals took a 2–1 lead after the end of doubles play, with the pairs of Mohsen-Breen and Youngberg and Gaeth and Kristina Yu ’22 MA ’23 taking down the Mammoths. As the singles portion started, Mohsen-Breen earned her 18th singles win of the season, while Nika Vesely ’25 added on another win for the Red and Black. Yu sealed the match-clinching point with a 6–2, 6–3 win at #4 singles to send the Cardinals into the title match.
Fried highlighted how the team’s mindset remained focused as they advanced through each round of the Championship.
“I don’t think our approach changes much,” Fried said. “Our hope and our training is to eliminate expectations of [what] we’re supposed to [do,] to just focus on everything that we want to be doing leading up to the match. And then from start to finish during a match, with adjustments only being made strategically based on who’s on the other side of the net, but rather than focus on them or the situation or the magnitude, just focus on the process that we’ve been committed to from the beginning of the season.”
Wesleyan and Middlebury battled once again for the Championship title in a rematch of the 2019 and 2022 NESCAC Championship matches. After suffering a 4–5 defeat to the Panthers during the regular season, making Middlebury the only team to defeat the Cardinals this season, the Red and Black were ready to avenge their loss and came out fighting.
Leila Epstein ’26 shared how the unity between the team spurred the Cardinals on as they took to the court against Middlebury.
“Each match, everyone was excited, present, and supportive,” Epstein wrote in an email to The Argus. “You could feel a sense of unity across all the courts. We all came into the match against Middlebury confident and looking to get revenge. From the first point, everyone was dialed in with their best energy.”
The Cards were able to take a 2–1 lead heading into the singles portion of the day. Vesely and Caitlyn Ferrante ’24 took an 8–1 win at #2 doubles while Mohsen-Breen and Youngberg found swinging success on the court again, taking down the Panthers at #3 doubles and solidifying their 16–1 record as a doubles team this season. Though Gaeth and Yu fell at #1 doubles, the Red and Black were still ready to fight as the courts moved into singles play.
Middlebury tied the team score at 2–2 as Ferrante was defeated at #3 singles. However, Epstein took a 6–2, 6–3 win and her first career postseason singles victory to allow the Cardinals to retake the lead, with Vesely then sealing a 6–2, 6–4 victory to bring Wesleyan one point away from clinching the title. This win brought Vesely to 14–0 in dual matches from the #1 singles position for the Cards this season, and the sophomore now holds an active streak of 18 consecutive sets won.
Yu, who has been a member of all four NESCAC Championship winning teams, bounced back after losing the second set to seal a 6–2, 4–6, 6–2 victory at #4 singles, clinching the Championship crown for the Cardinals.
Vesely elaborated on how felt to win the championship title again.
“It felt really great to win NESCACs for the fourth time in a row,” Vesely wrote in an email to The Argus. “We were excited to play a rematch against Midd and it was awesome for Kristina [Yu] to clinch the match for the second day in a row.”
With every player on the team bringing their all for the NESCAC Championship, Fried highlighted the support and camaraderie between the Cardinals as they fought hard in each match throughout the weekend.
“Throughout the weekend, there were highlights for every single person,” Fried said. “Everybody that was on our team played in at some point over the weekend, and…everyone came together for each other through the inevitable ups and downs and wins and losses of a tournament like that.”
Adding on to the team’s incredible success this year, six Cardinals were named to the All-NESCAC teams. Vesely, who became the second player in program history to be named NESCAC Player of the Year, was named to First Team Singles and Second Team Doubles. Epstein was also named to First Team Singles, while fellow first-year Youngberg was named to Second Team singles. Gaeth, Ferrante, and Yu were named to Second Team Doubles.
Coach Fried also earned NESCAC Coach of the Year honors for the second season in a row and the third time in his career.
Heading into the final matches of the 2022–23 season, Wesleyan will be hosting NCAA Tournament Regional Play this weekend. The Cardinals earned a bye into the second round and will await the winner of the first round matchup between Allegheny College and the University of Pittsburg-Greensburg. The other teams in the regional pod are Mary Washington, TCNJ, and Carin. The team is looking forward to carrying their momentum from the NESCACs into the NCAA Tournament.
“We are all super excited to be hosting NCAAs this weekend and are looking forward to continuing our post season run!” Epstein wrote.
The Cards will take to the court at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 6 to kick off their seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and hope to advance for the fourth straight season to the championship weekend. Fried spoke about the advantages of hosting the tournament and what it means for the team to play at home.
“There’s a lot that’s up in the air with both the draw and the geography of regional rounds, and it is incredibly nice for the team to be at home, to be on campus, to have friends and family that hopefully are there supporting us, [and] to not have to handle the logistics of travel, particularly as we head into reading period and exams,” Fried said. “I don’t wanna jinx it, but it’s a huge plus to be hosting as opposed to travel.”
With the Red and Black holding an incredible 71–5 record since the start of the 2019 season, with just one defeat this regular season, the team has great momentum heading into the NCAAs. The Cards have been undefeated in Middletown since April 2018 and have won 31 consecutive matches at home, and are now sitting at an incredible 17–1 overall record for this season, with 12 of these victories earned against nationally ranked opponents, as they begin their NCAA fight.
Jem Shin can be reached at email@example.com.