Tufts reaches NCAA regional final to cap season

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

The Tufts women’s tennis team continued to demonstrate its strength as a NESCAC powerhouse this season, finishing the regular season with an overall record of 11–5. Its 6–3 mark in conference play equaled last season’s performance and earned the Jumbos the fourth seed going into the NESCAC tournament.

“Our team had a great season as we beat teams we couldn’t beat last year, and we continued to improve throughout the season,” rising senior Tomo Iwasaki told the Daily in an email. “I think one of the key factors in our success was the hard work we put into our off season; we came back in our spring season much more fit than we have in past years.”

However, after winning four in a row to begin its season in 2017, Tufts got off to a different start this year. In the season-opener, the Jumbos fell to the No. 4 Middlebury Panthers, 6–3, at home. However, the team bounced back with a 9–0 win against Wellesley before its annual spring break trip to California.

In its first match on the West Coast, Tufts put up a 7–2 victory against Whitman. Due to an illness that affected eight of their players, the Jumbos were unable to compete against the Chicago Maroons on March 20. Still recovering from the illness, a weakened Tufts team fell 5–4 to No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, before finishing spring break on a high by banishing memories of its loss to Pomona-Pitzer last year. The Jumbos relied on a strong doubles performance to emerge 5–4 winners over the No. 5 Sagehens on March 23.

As the regular season kicked into full gear, Tufts had to battle through an extremely grueling schedule, at one point playing six matches in 12 days, including two doubleheader weekends. Of note was the team’s mental tenacity, as it recovered from a 6–3 defeat against top-ranked Emory on April 8 to down Colby 9–0 later that day. Tufts then closed out the regular season with wins in three of its last four matches to rise to sixth in the national rankings.

In the first round of the NESCAC Tournament on May 4, Tufts overcame Amherst 5–2, again starting strong to claim a 2–1 lead after doubles play. While graduating senior co-captain Zoe Miller lost in fifth singles, classmate Lauren Louks and rising senior Mina Karamercan were able to re-establish the lead for Tufts. Rising junior Kat Wiley then clinched victory for the team from the sixth spot with a 6–2, 3–6, 7–6 win. The Jumbos fell in semifinal action to the eventual champion Williams Ephs the next day, but nonetheless qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

On May 12, Tufts powered past Rhode Island College, riding a doubles sweep to a commanding 5–0 victory. However, the Jumbos were unable to replicate their regular-season success against the MIT Engineers the following day, falling 5–3 in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, despite emerging from doubles play with a 2–1 lead.

The Jumbos will graduate two seniors: co-captains Lauren Louks and Zoe Miller.

“As a first-year, I didn’t really experience many years with them, but for the year that I did, it was an incredible honor to be with them on the team,” rising sophomore Patricia Obeid said. “I played doubles with Lauren the past couple months, and I’ve never played with so much confidence — that’s due to her, so I’m grateful for that. I’m very inspired by Zoe’s hard work and just her humility… and the transformation she’s gone through. She’s been through so much through the year, but you can see how she pulls through and ends up clinching the matches for us.

However, the team’s future looks bright. In particular, Obeid starred for Tufts, beginning her career with a 5–2 record at No. 1 singles. While the New York native struggled against skilled opponents as the season progressed, there is no question that she, like many of the young Jumbos, will continue to progress next year. As a testament to the team’s strength, Obeid was named NESCAC Rookie of the Year, while Karamercan and her doubles partner classmate Otilia Popa were named as a first-team doubles pairing. Meanwhile, coach Kate Bayard took home Coach of the Year honors. In 2018–19, the team will be led by a rising senior class that features experienced players like Karamercan, Iwasaki and co-captain Julia Keller