c/o Wesleyan Athletics

c/o Wesleyan Athletics

Perfection is no easy feat, but, looking at this year’s Wesleyan women’s tennis team, you might think otherwise. After a 15–0 regular season (10–0 NESCAC), the Cardinals defeated Hamilton, Williams, and Amherst en route to their fifth straight NESCAC Championship this weekend. With this championship, the Cards have tied with the Amherst women’s tennis program (2006–2010) as the longest-reigning champions in NESCAC women’s tennis history.

The NESCAC playoffs began for the Red and Black on May 3, when they hosted two quarterfinal matches. As the no. 1 seed, they were first pitted against no. 8 Hamilton, a team they had not faced since early March. 

The Cards made quick work of the doubles matches, winning all three with a combined score of 24–1. Unlike regular season play, the match ends once one team reaches five wins, so the Cardinals only needed two singles players to win to end the match.

They accomplished just that, as Sarah Youngberg ’26 defeated her opponent 6–0, 6–0; and Jackie Soloveychik ’27 won her match seconds later, by a score of 6–1, 6–0. This resounding victory reaffirmed the team’s confidence as they headed into the next round.

“There’s something different about the playoffs,” Youngberg said. “The ‘survive and advance’ mentality makes it a little bit more exciting. Everyone played super loose, and was able to have so much fun in front of our fans at home. And since we thought it was going to be our last home match, it was really special to just be at home and play well.”

The Cards did not have much time to celebrate their win against Hamilton, as they immediately packed their bags and headed to Amherst, Mass., for Saturday’s semifinal match. Their next opponent was no. 4 seed Williams, whom they had defeated on home soil for the Little Three title earlier in the season. The Red and Black knew it was going to be a battle against their fierce rival, considering the Ephs are no. 10 nationally, and they would be looking for revenge after Wes celebrated a significant milestone by beating them this past April. 

Either way, the Cards pounced early, winning two of three hard-fought doubles matches. Lane Durkin ’27 and Youngberg dominated in their singles matches, putting Wes one win away from a spot in the finals. The Ephs returned the favor, winning two singles matches of their own right after. It was down to Soloveychik and Renna Mohsen-Breen ’25 to grab one more win and punch the Cards’ ticket to the final.

When it mattered most, Soloveychik came through, defeating her opponent in a grueling second-set tiebreaker. The team mobbed Soloveychik after her clincher, knowing they were one match away from five straight NESCAC titles. 

“It was such a special moment watching Jackie clinch,” Youngberg said. “She battled through it, and watching her come out on the other side, and seeing the smile on her face was so cool.”

Rain poured down on the morning of May 5, forcing the final to be played indoors. The Cardinals lined up against their other Little Three foe, no. 3 seeded Amherst, with the league championship on the line. In the semifinals, Amherst had just upset no. 2 seeded Middlebury, whom Wes has defeated in three of their four straight NESCAC championship matches in the past.

When the two teams squared off in the regular season, the Red and Black took care of business, routing the Mammoths 9–0. However, that was on March 9—the first match of the Cards’ season—so there was no telling how much Amherst had improved since then.

While Wes might have had the upper hand in seed and national ranking, the Mammoths had home-court and home-crowd advantage, making this match all the more interesting for both sides. 

“We always talk about handling adversity,” captain Caitlyn Ferrante ’24 said. “So as soon as we walked in, we were just like ‘All right, this is what we’ve got today, and we’re going to show up the same way we always have.’ We just kept our heads on straight, and were able to [play] the way we wanted to.”

c/o Brad Kasnet

c/o Brad Kasnet

Each doubles match was a battle, as both Amherst and Wesleyan looked to make a statement by putting points on the board. The third doubles pair of Durkin and Mohsen-Breen drew first blood for the Cards, defeating their opponents 8–5. Amherst fought right back, winning in second doubles and evening up the overall match at one apiece.

It came down to Ferrante and Youngberg to break the tie in the Red and Black’s favor before moving to the singles matches. Throughout the match, Ferrante and Youngberg held multiple three-game leads over their Mammoth opponents. Amherst continued to fight, diminishing these leads rather quickly. With the score at 7–6, Ferrante served with a crucial chance to win the match. It took them only four points to wrap up the final set, as Ferrante connected on four straight first serves, and, after long rallies, Youngberg finished each point at the net, getting the ball past their Mammoth opponents. 

“[Caitlyn and I] were hot out of the gate,” Youngberg said. “But there were a lot of Amherst supporters, and even though we had our [men’s tennis team] there to support us, they weren’t as heard. Either way, it was fun playing in front of a crowd. We got an early lead, and [Caitlyn] was able to serve out the match in textbook fashion.”

Now with a 2–1 lead heading into the singles matches, the Cards were prepared to seal the deal with three singles wins. Durkin and Mohsen-Breen fed off the momentum they gained in doubles by cruising to victories in their fifth and sixth singles matches. The other four singles matches proved to be a bit more competitive, with the Mammoths responding well to every Cardinal run.

About twenty minutes after Durkin secured the fourth point for Wesleyan, Ferrante found herself with an opportunity to clinch the NESCAC title. She competed in back-and-forth games with her opponent throughout her match, but was finally faced with the opportunity to push the Cards over the edge and into championship celebration. After a 16-shot rally, Ferrante hit a rocket down the singles sideline and past her opponent, officially crowning the Cardinals as five-time champions of the ’CAC. 

“I wanted to come out firing,” Ferrante said. “From the first point on, I was really pumped up, and took it to her from the start…. I was up 5–1 [in the second set], and then I started realizing what was happening, and I was like ‘Oh shoot, I have to close it out,’ which is sometimes the hardest thing. So the match got to 5–3, and the last point [was] pretty long, but I ended up hitting a forehand down the line [to win]. It was a perfect ending, [and] as a senior, I’m really happy I was able to do it for the team.”

By winning the NESCAC championship, the Cards earned their eighth consecutive appearance in the NCAA DIII Women’s National Championship bracket. Due to their success throughout the season, they will play host to six more teams this weekend for the first two rounds of the tournament. They await the winner of Stevens Institute of Technology and Eastern Nazarene College, but they will not let their opponents shake their confidence as they look to continue their historic 2023–24 campaign.

“I feel like we’re in a really good spot,” Ferrante said. “It was another huge confidence boost to win NESCACs, and now we are hosting NCAAs. [We are] super pumped.”

The Cards will take on the winner of the Stevens and Eastern Nazarene match this Saturday at 10:00 a.m. on the John Wood Memorial Tennis Courts. 

Max Forstein can be reached at mforstein@wesleyan.edu.

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