After an up-and-down regular season, and an early exit from the NESCAC tournament, the women’s tennis team entered the NCAA tournament without the momentum of some other top teams. Tufts put any critics to silence however, advancing to the third round of the tournament before ending its season against Williams College on May 11.
The tournament started well for the Jumbos, with a 5-0 win over the Royals from the University of Scranton on May 9. Tufts kicked off the match by winning easily at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles, taking both matches 8-0. Graduating senior Shelci Bowman and rising sophomore Jacqueline Baum then rallied from a 4-3 deficit at No. 1 doubles to win 8-4 over graduating senior Stephanie Boccuzzi and rising senior Nicole Mahaffey. Graduating senior Samantha Gann and rising sophomore Alexa Meltzer then quickly sealed the Tufts victory at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, winning their matches 6-0, 6-0 and 6-1, 6-2, respectively.
Following an evening of rest, Tufts was back at it the next morning to play Skidmore, who was coming off of a first-round bye. In a match played indoors due to morning showers, the Thoroughbreds immediately jumped out to a quick lead after they took two of the three doubles matches over the Jumbos.
Skidmore opened the scoring with an 8-5 victory over Gann and Meltzer at No. 2 doubles, which was answered shortly thereafter with a tight win at No. 1 doubles by Bowman and Baum 9-7. Rising sophomores Conner Calabro and Chelsea Hayashi then took graduating senior Mellisa Hirsch and rising senior Yumi Karlshoej to a tiebreak at No. 3 doubles, but were unable to finish them off, losing 9-8(4).
Entering the singles portion of the match facing a 2-1 deficit, Tufts needed to win four of the six remaining matches to avoid elimination.
“It was disappointing to go down 2-1 after doubles,” Gann said. “Our meeting in between was all about positive energy and staying confident because we knew we could win every singles match.”
Calabro was first off the court for the Jumbos, winning her match at No. 3 singles 6-2, 6-2, and leveling the overall score. Meltzer and Bowman followed with wins of their own at No. 2 and No. 4 singles, 6-4, 6-0 and 6-4, 6-3, respectively, meaning the Jumbos needed only one more point to clinch a spot in the third round.
Scranton graduating senior Lee Ford made Tufts wait a little longer with her win at No. 1 singles over Gann 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, but graduating senior Rebecca Kimmel came through at No. 6 singles in straight sets, 6-0, 6-1 to win the match for Tufts.
“I think everyone brought their ‘A’ games in singles,” Meltzer said. “The energy was better than anything we had all season, and I think it annoyed Skidmore, helping us get those wins.”
After winning its first round match against Scranton and its grueling second round match against No. 14-ranked Skidmore, Tufts was set to play for the third day in a row against No. 3-ranked and six-time-defending-national champion Williams College, a rematch from an April 12 match that Williams won comfortably, 9-0.
This time it was much of the same for the Jumbos, who were unable to get any momentum in doubles play, and then could not recover from the early deficit in singles play. Williams switched up two of its doubles pairings from the early season meeting, but the different pairings yielded the same results – three comfortable victories. Calabro and Hayashi had the tightest match at No. 3 doubles, falling to fellow rising sophomores Hannah Atkinson and Linda Shin, 8-3. Bowman and Baum fell at No. 1 doubles 8-1, while Gann and Meltzer were shut out at No. 2 doubles, 8-0.
Williams then wasted little time in singles play, winning three quick matches, which provided more than enough to guarantee the victory. Gann started quickly in her match at No. 1 singles against fellow graduating senior co-captain Kara Shoemaker, but failed to put forth a significant challenge in the second set, falling 6-2, 6-1. Calabro and Bowman lost by identical scores of 6-1, 6-1 at No. 3 and No. 4 singles, sealing the victory for Williams. The other three singles matches were halted once Williams had guaranteed its victory, with Meltzer taking the lone set of the day for Tufts, 6-3, at the No. 2 position.
“We knew Williams would be really tough having already played them once and as the defending national champion,” Meltzer said. “It was tough having to play to decision because we want as many wins as possible, but in the end [winning the first set] was irrelevant because as a team we lost.”
With more than half of this year’s team made up of freshmen, the future is bright for the No. 16-ranked Tufts women’s tennis team.
“I’m super confident in the group we have, Meltzer said. “Everyone is so eager to put in hard work. We had a team meeting about offseason goals, like working on foot-speed, quickness on the court and to keep playing matches to keep our match mentality fresh for the fall. I’m really excited to see what next season has in store.””
While Gann, Bowman and Kimmel will certainly be difficult to replace both on and off the court, a few more cracks against the top competition in the country may well prove to be all the team needs to make the jump from a good squad to one seriously competing for a national championship.
“”I’m really confident in this group, and really hopeful that there’s a national championship in the future,”” Gann said. “”The team’s mentality and work ethic are great, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this team.””