Tufts set to begin promising season with high-profile match against Middlebury

First-year Kiara Rose volleys a shot at the MIT Invitational on Sept. 16, 2017. Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily Archives

On Saturday, the No. 7 Tufts women’s tennis team will begin its 2018 campaign with a home match against No. 4 Middlebury. The Jumbos fell to the Panthers by a 9–0 scoreline the last time the two teams played each other in Vermont on April 9, 2017. Tufts has not beaten Middlebury since 2011, so this matchup is sure to be a difficult test to open the season, but it also gives the team an immediate goal to work toward at the start of its season.

Junior Mina Karamercan, who played in the No. 1 spot on the singles ladder last season, discussed the significance of starting off the season on a good note against the Panthers, especially after last year’s tough result.

“Obviously it’s a really important match. We lost really badly against them last year,” Karamercan said. “Our first goal would be to beat them this Saturday at home.”

Senior co-captain Lauren Louks believes that the Jumbos’ offseason preparation puts them in a good position heading into this weekend, as well as the rest of the season.

“We’ve had pretty intense practices the past couple of weeks,” Louks said. “We have been doing a lot of match play and trying to get ready mentally.”

On Sunday, Tufts will travel to No. 25 Wellesley for its first away match of the season. In their most recent matchup, on April 5, 2017, the Jumbos defeated the Blue by a decisive 7–2 margin.

This weekend’s matches against Middlebury and Wellesley will be the only two that Tufts plays before traveling to California for its annual spring break trip. That week will be crucial for the Jumbos, as they will play four matches over the course of six days and have time to bond both on and off the court.

“[The trip] is super important in terms of practicing outside and playing different teams that are located on the West Coast,” Karamercan said. “That will be crucial for us — being super efficient with our time during practice and getting the basic things done on court during practices.”

Once they return from the California sunshine, the majority of the Jumbos’ remaining matches will be against NESCAC opponents, which typically makes for close and exciting matches.

“All of our NESCAC competition is always really tough,” Karamercan said. “We all look forward to those matches.”

Last year, Tufts went 6–3 in the conference en route to a 15–7 overall mark and an appearance in the third round of the NCAA tournament. After falling to Williams in the semifinals of the NESCAC tournament last year, the team has made winning the conference championship its top objective.

“I’d say our biggest goal is to win NESCACs this year,” Karamercan said. “We were super close last year — we lost in the semis. It was a close match and we felt like we could have won.”

The team has put in a lot of careful preparation in the offseason to put such lofty goals within reach. In addition to four practices and three lifts every week (led by Louks, junior co-captain Julia Keller and senior co-captain Zoe Miller), the Jumbos used their month-long fall season to prepare for the spring. Tufts competed in a pair of multi-day invitationals, as well as a regional championship tournament at Williams. The spring season, in which teams go head-to-head, poses a new challenge for the Jumbos after the fall’s individual competitions.

Though the results of the fall matches counted toward players’ individual rankings, they mainly served as a way for players — especially underclassmen — to gain experience, as well as to identify areas of their game for improvement during the offseason.

“For [first-years], the fall season is super important in the sense that they get to play other teams and other girls and see where the competition is,” Karamercan said. “[We] learn a lot from the fall season because we see what we have to work on and what needs to be improved before the season starts.”

First-year Margot Shea discussed how helpful the fall matches were in her adjustment to playing collegiate tennis.

“Junior tennis is so individual, but when you come to college, you are playing for your team and also yourself,” Shea said. “It has been really fun to have a team to support [me] rather than being by [myself]. Playing in the fall definitely helped me get used to the differences that come with playing at this level.”

With the return of last year’s top four singles players — Karamercan, Louks, sophomore Katherine Wiley and junior Tomo Iwasaki — as well as the addition of first-years Patricia Obeid, Kiara Rose and Shea, the Jumbos are in position to have one of their most successful seasons in recent years. While long-term goals such as the NESCAC and NCAA tournaments are important, the team has more immediate objectives in mind as well.

“We are just taking it match-by-match and putting everything we have into each match,” Louks said. “I think it will be fun to see how our team does in the first couple matches of the season.”