Tufts falls to Johns Hopkins in NCAA play

Graduating senior Conner Calabro slams the ball during Tufts' 6-3 win against Wesleyan on April 15. Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily

Tufts improved its regular season record to 15-7 this year, making 2016–2017 one of the program’s best seasons under coach Kate Bayard. This year’s roster of 14 players is also one of the deepest that Bayard has had in her 12-year tenure at Tufts.

The team started the spring season off strong during its annual spring break trip to California, racking up victories against Oberlin, Carleton, Wisconsin-Whitewater and then-No. 6 University of Chicago, before Pomona-Pitzer handed Tufts its first loss of the season to close out the trip.

Despite the setback, Tufts put together a series of four victories upon its return to the East Coast, starting with a 6-3 win over Brandeis in the team’s home opener. The Jumbos suffered their first loss in New England when they were routed 9-0 by the then-No. 9 Middlebury Panthers, and they struggled against top-ranked teams all season. Tufts also lost to then-No. 1 Emory and then-No. 7 Bowdoin later in April, but despite the team’s tough schedule, it was always able to recover and never lost back-to-back matches. After losing to Emory, Tufts bounced back to beat Wesleyan 6-3 the next day, and it similarly recorded an emphatic 9-0 victory against Hamilton the day after its defeat by Bowdoin.

Playing another top-ranked team in then-No. 4 Williams in the regular season finale, Tufts suffered another tough loss and headed into the postseason NESCAC tournament as the third seed with a 6-3 record in conference play, trailing only Middlebury (8-0) and Williams (7-1). In the first round, Tufts saw off Amherst 5-1, avenging its loss in the quarterfinals last year. The Jumbos stormed into the lead after doubles play as they swept all three matches, albeit by very tight margins. Rising sophomore Katherine Wiley then won Tufts’ first singles match 6-3, 6-1. Amherst got on the board with a win in the next singles slot, but the victory was sealed when Tufts’ rising senior Lauren Louks defeated rising junior Kelsey Chen in an epic three-setter that ended 6-1, 1-6, 7-5 to clinch a 5-1 win.

With that win and Tufts’ regular season win against Amherst on April 19, the team claimed the program’s first two victories against Amherst since 1992 after a 32-game losing streak to the conference rivals. The quarterfinal win also marked the Jumbos’ first trip to the NESCAC semifinals since 2011.

“Not only was it awesome to beat Amherst again at such a clutch moment, it was also the first time in my four years that we advanced to the semis of NESCACs, which was amazing as the team really played with heart and owned the court,” graduating senior Chelsea Hayashi told the Daily in an email.

The tournament run was short-lived, however, as Tufts fell to the eventual conference champions Williams 5-0 in the next round. Unlike in the regular season match between the two teams, when rising juniors Tomo Iwasaki and Otilia Popa were able to claim a win in doubles, they fell to the same opponents in the semifinal match as the Jumbos were unable to capitalize on their potential doubles strength. The team has frequently been able to jump out to early leads in doubles and has gone 12-0 this spring when leading after doubles action.

“In terms of Williams, I think going down 3-0 after doubles really hurt us,” Hayashi told the Daily in an email. “Especially when playing to decision, every point really counts, and we weren’t able to recover from that in the singles.”

Despite the defeat, the Jumbos earned a bid to the NCAA tournament for the 16th time in the last 17 years, and they hosted first-round regional action on the weekend of May 13-14. After a  5-0 victory over Nichols College in the NCAA second round, Tufts fell in a tightly-contested 5-4 defeat at the hands of Johns Hopkins University in the next round. While the team’s season is over, Karamercan will be representing Tufts at the national singles and doubles championship running May 25-27.

“We’ve truly been going one match at a time and trying to learn from each match,” Bayard told the Daily in an email. “The highs and the lows are what have gotten us to where [we] are today heading into NCAAs. We have come up against the toughest competition day after day, and regardless of who we’ve beaten or lost to, I feel every match this year has helped us get to this point.”

The program is graduating five seniors: co-captains Alexa Meltzer and Conner Calabro as well as Hayashi, Jacqueline Baum and Hannah Conroy. Meltzer also graduates having been named as the conference’s Sportswoman of the Year. Other accolades for the team’s players include Louks and Karamercan being named to the All-NESCAC team.

“All five of them have been such great teammates, mentors and friends, and have always been there for us on and off the court,” Iwasaki told the Daily in an email. “They are all such a source of positivity and each bring their own unique energy to the team. It is going to be really hard to say goodbye to them, and the team is not going to be the same without them. We hope to end their college tennis careers on a great note.”