Women’s tennis serves up strong debut at MIT Invitational

First-year Kiara Rose hits the ball at the MIT Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 16. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

The Tufts women’s tennis team traveled just a few stops down the T this weekend to take their shot at the MIT Invitational, their first match of the season. Because this was an invitational, Tufts played as individuals in a tournament-style draw, facing off against Amherst, Wesleyan and MIT on Sept. 15 through 17. Although the overall singles winner was unseeded first-year Libby Rickeman of MIT, the Jumbos flexed their prowess throughout the three days and showed substantial potential for the coming weeks.

The three-day tournament marked the collegiate debuts of three first-year additions to the team. Margot Shea and Kiara Rose both played in the main singles tournament, but both were eliminated in the first round. Rose put up a fight, winning the first set 6-1, before dropping the second and third 6-2, 10-6. Meanwhile in the doubles tournament, Patricia Obeid paired with sophomore Katherine Wiley for a first-round match that went to a 9-8(4) tiebreaker that they eventually lost.

Senior tri-captain Lauren Louks lost in the opening round despite her No. 3 seed coming into the tournament. She took part in the consolation singles tournament instead, progressing all the way to the finals where she was defeated 6-0, 6-2 by sophomore Anya Ivenitsky of Amherst. 

Junior Mina Karamercan, who began the day as the No. 4 seed, topped her first three opponents to make the semifinals of the tournament. She came out swinging with a 6-1, 6-2 defeat of Wesleyan senior Nicole McCann, continued by topping Amherst senior Avery Wagman, 6-3, 4-6, 10-7, and proceeded to the semifinal by default after senior Elysa Kohrs of MIT withdrew from the tournament. Karamercan fell to Rickeman, the eventual winner, 6-2, 6-4.

“I’m very excited about their performance this weekend,” coach Kate Bayard said. “I think we have a ton of potential.”

With the team’s top-four singles players from last year all returning along with their top-two doubles teams and three strong first-years, the Jumbos are ready to challenge the rest of the  NESCAC.

Although the team played with strong, consistent groundstrokes and serves, the most memorable aspect of this performance was character.

“There were 12 courts outside, four courts inside, and just based on everyone’s mannerisms and body language, it looked like we were winning every single match,” Bayard said. “Everyone was positive, competitive, put in maximum effort and had a ‘fight-til-the-end’ attitude, regardless of the score.”

Bayard’s job at this time of the season is essentially to play the role of matchmaker.

“She took a lot of time to observe our playing styles, our strengths and weaknesses, and used that to pair doubles teams together,” Shea said.

The pairs certainly had the right chemistry, as one duo of junior Otilia Popa and Louks climbed their way to the semifinals, outplaying a pair from MIT 8-2 and Wesleyan 8-4 before being defeated by third-seeded Vickie Ip and Jen Chen from Amherst, 8-4.

Due to the individual tournament style of this particular invitational, one of the matches this weekend was a bit of an oddity: two Tufts teammates, Shea and senior tri-captain Zoe Miller, faced off in the back draw.

“I guess it was a little weird,” Shea said. “I played against my own two sisters in tournaments growing up, though, so I wasn’t new to the feeling. It’s just an unusual situation because normally, you want your opponent to miss so that you’ll win the point, but you also always want your teammates to play their best. But, in the end, I think it’s actually beneficial to be in that situation, because it forces you to focus on yourself and your own game, instead of just hoping your opponent falters.”

Miller prevailed in a very tight match, 1-6, 7-5, 11-9.

The team plans to focus on improving doubles formations and strategy, serve and return techniques, and recognizing offensive opportunities even when they’re more subtle. The team sat down for a meeting to discuss its goals for this year on Tuesday, Sept. 19. Based on the level of play this past weekend, some of those might be lofty.

Tufts will return to the competition courts in a few weeks to display more “fight-to-the-end attitudes” at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) New England Championships, Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 at Williams College.