Tennis rallies for third Seven Sisters title

Freshman Tara Edwards winds up to return a shot in recent match. Edwards, earning wins in both singles and doubles, helped the Brewers earn their third straight Seven Sisters Tournament title. / Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

After winning the two past annual Seven Sisters Tournaments, the Vassar College women’s tennis team set out to defend their title. Earning hard fought battles against Bryn Mawr College, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College and Wellesley College, the Brewers took home their third consecutive Seven Sisters Championship title and moved up to the 39th slot of the Division III women’s national tennis ranking.

Despite taking home this monumental victory, the Brewers fell to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), ranked 22nd nationally, in a score of 7-2. This loss arrived over a month after the Brewers’ last loss, which occurred against Bowdoin College on March 12. Though this defeat interrupted the team’s nine-game win streak, the Brewers look to bounce back from the matchup in order to improve their play in upcoming Liberty League competition.

Sweeping the opening day of the Seven Sisters Tournament, the Brewers posted 5-0 wins against both Bryn Mawr College and Smith College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. The tournament utilizes a modified scoring system, in which players can only compete in either singles or doubles, and are not permitted to repeat in any matches. Though this required the Brewers to tweak their usual matchups, they were able to overcome this obstacle in order to pull out numerous victories.

Head Coach Kathy Campbell attributed a portion of the team’s success to entering the weekend with a strong sense of confidence. “We have demonstrated improvement each week of our season, and had a 10-2 record posted heading into this event,” Coach Campbell explained. “The confidence and positive spirit of our team enhanced our play, just as it always does.” She emphasized the effort of the collective team, rather than a single player, in battling out this win. “We played determined, smart tennis together. It was definitely a huge team effort, with everyone contributing on and off the court. We had many fearless, confident, and gutsy performances.”

The Brewers swept their singles matches against Bryn Mawr, racking up three significant victories. In the first match, Vassar College sent out freshman Tara Edwards, senior captain Connie Yoo and junior Lauren DiFazio. Edwards collected her singles victories easily with scores of 6-1 and 6-0, while Yoo followed these efforts easily, winning each of her matches with scores of 6-0. DiFazio continued the successes, earning a 7-5, 6-1 victory.

Vassar found similar success in its doubles action, beginning with senior Shayna Becker and sophomore Morgane Flournoy. They defeated their opposition in the first set 6-4, and continued steadily to take away the next set with a score of 6-2. Newcomers Ashley Fair and Vista Grinde then stepped up to follow the example of their upperclassmen, earning 6-1 and 6-0 wins.

Smith College brought a stronger battle to the table for the Brewers. Though junior top-player Kate Christensen fell in her first set 4-6, she quickly rebounded to win the following sets 7-5 and 10-5. Becker faced a similar challenge against her opposition. Pushed to a tiebreaker, Becker eventually earned her win with set scores of 6-2, 3-6, 10-4. Vassar’s doubles teams overcame their Smith rivals easily, as Edwards and Flournoy swept the competition 6-0 and 6-1, and junior Dasha Ivenitsky posted 6-2 and 6-1 set wins alongside Grinde.

The successful matches against Wellesley College and Mount Holyoke College the following day secured the championship title for Vassar. In singles against Wellesley, Christensen again rallied to earn a hard-fought victory with scores of 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. The winning continued, as Yoo posted 6-0 and 6-4 winning sets against her respective competitor. This victory marked the 10th straight match win for Yoo, giving her an impressive 13-1 record in doubles matches on the season. She is a significant contributor for the Brewers, leading the entire squad in wins.

Matched up together for the first time, Flournoy and Edwards wrestled to pull out an important 6-4, 7-6 win to give the Brewers a strong start in doubles. “I felt really good about my doubles wins with Tara,” recalled Flournoy. “We played some of the best players on two especially tough teams, and barely won both of them.” Edwards seconded this sentiment, proud of the duo’s ability to play so successfully without much preparation. “We had only practiced with each other a few times,” she admitted, “but we were able to compete hard and play well with each other.” Ivenitsky and Grinde followed the lead of this top-doubles pair, sweeping their sets with scores of 6-4 and 6-0.

After all of these winning efforts, the Brewers still had to take on Wellesley to secure the Seven Sisters title. Vassar was in this exact situation last year, battling and defeating Wellesley for the 2016 title. Christensen came onto the court strong to earn the Brewers’ first win, with two 6-2 sets. Proving their consistent winning ability, Ivenitsky and Grinde again battled out a win, 6-2 and 6-4. Only needing one more victory in order to take home the championship title, Vassar walked out Yoo. She posted a straight set win with 6-4 and 6-2 sets, securing the Brewers’ victory over the four other institutions.

The Brewers would not have been able to pull out this monumental win without the contributions of each of their players. Consequently, many of the team’s members were named to the All-Seven Sisters Team after their stellar performances. Yoo was named to the squad for singles, while both doubles pairs, Edwards and Flournoy, as well as Ivenitsky and Grinde, received this nomination. All of these individuals were undefeated in their respective matchups.

Yoo not only posted one of the most impressive performances of the tournament, but has also been making significant strides for the team all season. Coach Campbell noted with praise, “She has been stellar all season for us, posting an undefeated singles record of 10-0 in Division III dual matches heading into the tournament. She brings such positive energy to the court and team at all times, and her composure in this competition, as well as all others, is remarkable.”

Equally satisfied with her performance, Yoo attributes her victory to the mental composure that her coach commended as well. “I tried to stay focused and patient throughout the game,” she recalled. “Staying consistent and waiting to hit the ball in a way that would structure the point to my advantage was key.” In terms of the team, Yoo added, “I was really excited and proud of the rest of the team for our wins, especially against the tougher teams, like Mount Holyoke and Wellesley.”

The excitement of this win lasted until the next weekend, when the Brewers were defeated by aggressive MIT competition 7-2, losing their nine-game win streak. Though Becker and Edwards, as well as Ivenitsky and Grinde, lost their doubles matches, Flournoy and Christensen pulled out a powerful win against the top-doubles combination of their opposition, 8-6. “Our victory against MIT today was incredible,” Flournoy proudly stated. “We knew we could win as long as we worked each point patiently, and waited for the right opportunity to put the ball away. I’m very proud of our win, and it reflected exactly how hard we’ve been working as a doubles pair in executing our goals.”

Christensen continued her impressive play into singles, securing the only individual win for Vassar against an impressive MIT player, ranked 15th in the Northeast. Falling behind 5-7 in the first set, she rallied hard to win the following ones 6-4 and 10-6. This win was good for Christensen’s fifth straight singles win, improving her season record to 17-5.

Yoo, Ivenitsky and Edwards all put forth bold efforts against their respective MIT competitors, but fell in their singles contests. This day of play came as only the Brewers’ third loss on the season, as they maintain a still impressive 14-3 overall record. “I thought everyone played really well against MIT,” declared Yoo. “Most of our matches were so close that I don’t think the overall score reflected the quality of the game.” Edwards too recognized that the overall score did not replicate the closeness of the Brewers’ matches. “Even the matches we didn’t win were very close, which is always good. MIT is going to be a helpful match moving forward, as it shows us that we can truly compete with a highly ranked team.”

With regards to moving forward into Liberty League competition, Coach Campbell commented, “We continue to focus on improving each week. While we competed very well against MIT, making them fight for every match, we will identify things we need to continue working on as we move forward.” The Brewers will look to do just this, as they take on Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, this upcoming Saturday.

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