The No. 15 Tufts women’s tennis team lost two of three games over the past week as it completed the last away match this season. The team’s 9-0 victory over Conn. College on Friday was sandwiched by a 6-3 defeat at Amherst on Wednesday and a 5-4 loss at Wesleyan on Sunday. The Jumbos fall to 10-5 in overall play and 4-3 in conference play. Despite the setback, this season has still seen marked improvement over the last one when the Jumbos went 8-8 overall and 3-5 in the NESCAC.
Despite the losses, the Jumbos continue to remain confident after consistently keeping matches against some of the top teams in the country close and competitive.
“We’ve had a lot of really close matches this season which have shown that we are a really competitive team. But it is frustrating that we’ve not been fully proved that through a victory,” junior Chelsea Hayashi said. “It shouldn’t affect our confidence going into next week, especially when they’re three-setters, especially because on another day, you never know what could happen — we have the capability and the skills to do well, and even though it stinks to lose, we’d try and take confidence from these losses.”
On Wednesday, Tufts faced its toughest challenge this season, No. 5 Amherst. The Jumbos, who have been strong in doubles play throughout the season, failed to take the lead after the doubles matches for the third time this year. While sophomore Lauren Louks and first-year Mina Karamercan beat Amherst seniors Sue Ghosh and Sarah Monteagudo 8-4 in the first doubles position, Tufts senior co-captain Conner Calabro and first-year Olivia Popa fell 8-5 to No. 20 first-year Kelsey Chen and sophomore Vickie Ip in second doubles. In a thrilling match in the third doubles position, first-year Tomo Iwasaki and junior Jacqueline Baum were finally edged 9-8 (3) by senior Rebecca Pol and junior Avery Wagman, giving Amherst a 2-1 lead after doubles play.
In the tightly contested singles matches, the Jumbos pushed their generally higher-ranked Purple & White opponents to three-setters in four of the six matches. The contest was so competitive that it lasted through the sunset, and the teams had to pause play as the sun went down to move indoors, a factor that coach Kate Bayard believes might have affected the outcome.
“Amherst was a completely even match that could have gone either way. At the time we had to stop, two of the [singles] matches, [Karamercan’s] and [Hayashi’s], had just split sets, and in both of them we had won the second sets,” Bayard said. “In the other matches that were still on, [Iwasaki] was at 4-4 deuce in the third, and [Louks] 4-4 in the second. Obviously there was no way of knowing how it would have gone if we stayed outside, but it was anyone’s match at that point. When we were back on the next day [on an indoor court], [Iwasaki] had a tough couple of points at the middle of 4-4 and deuce, and certainly the momentum shifted after we went inside. It took [Karamercan] a few games to adjust but battled that out, and [Louks] had it go her way. It was just one of those matches where we were even with them.”
As the two teams moved indoors, Amherst was up 3-2, and any momentum Tufts may have been building for a comeback stalled with the pause in play.
Louks overcame a 7-5 defeat in the first-set in No. 1 singles and a delay in matchplay to beat Ghosh 5-7, 7-6 (6) and 6-0. Karamercan, however, was unable to make a similar comeback in the final set in the second position after the restart, losing to Ip, 6-1, 3-6 and 6-4. In No. 3 singles, Iwasaki took the first set against Monteagudo in a tiebreak, but eventually fell 6-7 (4), 6-1 and 6-4. Hayashi also also battled to three sets against Wagman before she lost the final set 6-3. She had battled back from a 7-6 (6) first set defeat to take the second 6-1 before the break in play but was unable to continue her comeback after the pause. Calabro was the only other victor for the Jumbos in the singles, seeing off junior Jackie Calla 6-4, 6-2, while Jumbos sophomore Zoe Miller found herself on the reverse side of that same score against Chen.
The Jumbos recovered on Friday against the Conn. College Camels, winning all nine of their matches in a dominant victory. Tufts gave up only three games total in doubles play. The Louks-Karamercan pair showed their dominance throughout the season with an 8-1 victory over sophomore Aleksandra Drljaca and senior co-captain Charlotte Marcoux 8-1. Iwasaki stepped in to partner with Calabro in the second position, but they seemed to find some cohesion as they locked out the sister pair of sophomore Angelica and first-year Mariah Warren 8-0. In the third position, Hayashi and Miller teamed up to beat first-years Emily Migliorni and Brinley Bartlett 8-2.
The singles matches were never really close as five different Jumbos recorded at least one bagel set in their match ups. Hayashi and Iwasaki both racked up two bagel sets in straight sets 6-0, 6-0 singles victories over Mariah and Angelica Warren respectively. Karamercan and Calabro both won their matches 6-1, 6-0 against Migliorni and Marcoux, while Miller defeated junior Susanna Studwell with a similar score of 6-0, 6-1. Louks also won her match in the first position against Drjlaca 6-1, 6-2, and the Jumbos regained their confidence beating up an overmatched Camels squad.
But in the much tighter match on Sunday, Tufts gave another higher-ranked NESCAC opponent a run for its money but ultimately lost to No. 8 Wesleyan 5-4. Despite the defeat, the Jumbos were once again able to take an early lead with their strong doubles play. While Louks and Karamercan lost to the sophomore pair of Eudice Chong and Helen Klass-Warch 8-2 in the first position, Calabro and Iwasaki beat first-year Victoria Yu and sophomore Aashli Budhiraja 9-7. Hayashi and Miller followed that up with an 8-5 victory over sophomores Nicole McCann and Dasha Dubinsky to give Tufts a 2-1 lead heading into singles play.
Iwasaki and Calabro followed up their doubles win with victories in each of their single matches. Iwasaki beat McCann 6-0, 6-2, while Calabro saw off Klass-Warch 6-3, 6-2. But Wesleyan’s two strongest players, Chong and Yu, were able to defeat the Jumbos’ own seeded players. Chong, the top ranked player in Div. III, beat Louks 6-2, 6-4, while Karamercan fell 6-4, 7-5 to Yu, the nation’s ninth-ranked player. Hayashi lost 6-2, 7-5 against Budhiraja, as Dubinsky avenged her doubles defeat by beating Miller in the singles 6-4, 6-2 to clinch the win for the Cardinals.
As the Jumbos look to win their final two regular-season matches against the Bowdoin Polar Bears and the Williams Ephs at home this Saturday to improve their postseason seed, Baum believes that the team’s strengths in doubles make them a tough competitor and enable them to duke it out with the nation’s best teams, many of which also play in the NESCAC.
“I think we need to continue our doubles which have been very good this year that’ve continuously been going up 2-1, and taking the lead after the doubles going forward which is important,” Baum said. “I think after that, it’s just a matter of a couple points here and there, and we just have to continue being gutsy with the big points and going forward, playing to win, playing aggressive.”
Baum and Hayashi recognize the significance of this weekend’s conference matches, as they come against two of the NESCAC’s best teams. Bowdoin is 5-2 in conference play, while Williams is 5-1, so Tufts will need to pull off big upsets. Then again, the Jumbos will have home court advantage.
“Our goal obviously will be to win both: it will help us tremendously in the NESCACs in terms of our confidence and our ranking — they’d be really big wins for us,” Baum said. “I think we have the talent and confidence to do so. It’s going to be a long day, but we’re going to have fight through it and really be mentally tough going in.”
“Especially since [they are] home games and [they are] NESCAC game[s], it gives [us] our last two opportunities to prove ourselves,” Hayashi said. “[To prove] that we’re here, we’re good and we can be [one] of the top teams. So these are super important.”