PITTSBURGH, Penn. — For the first time in program history, the Wesleyan University women's tennis team is heading to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Division III Championships. The Cardinals booked their trip to the championship site in Claremont, Calif. with a 5-1 win over No. 9 Carnegie Mellon University on Saturday, winning a key doubles point at No. 3 to a take a 2-1 lead.
Senior Eudice Chong and junior Victoria Yu got Wesleyan on the board with an 8-5 win at No. 1 doubles, but Carnegie Mellon knotted things up with an 8-5 win of its own at No. 2, getting out to a big lead and hanging on to defeat freshmen Alissa Nakamoto and Polina Kiseleva. With all eyes turned to No. 3 doubles, the senior experience of Nicole McCann and Helen Klass-Warch came through, as the duo erased a 7-5 deficit and took the pivotal match, 9-7.
"We had to reset and take a lot of time between points and eventually we just realized we were having fun out there," said Klass-Warch. "We weren't playing our best, but you have to work with what you have. We were really scrappy and just brought a lot of fight and I think our focus, in that sense, never wavered. I was so focused that I didn't even realize we were down."
Despite having a lead going into singles, Wesleyan had no chance to relax, as the hosting Tartans hung tough on every court. The Cardinals won four first sets to put themselves in the driver seat, but as the finish line inched nearer, the pressure mounted. The ever-reliable Chong came through for the Cardinals' first singles point, winning 6-1, 6-1 at No. 1, and she was followed by Yu shortly afterwards at No. 2, who won 6-3, 6-0.
With Wesleyan needing only one more point for the clinch, senior Aashli Budhiraja at No. 3 and Kiseleva at No. 4 closed in on victory simultaneously. Both were only a game away, but it was the freshman that finished the match off, winning 6-3, 6-3 to send the Cardinals into the national quarterfinals.
Senior captain Klass-Warch on the match: "It's the best feelings I've ever had. We put in so much work over the last four years and it feels so perfect to be going to California in my last year. I couldn't be more proud of everyone and the way they battled, the grit they had. It's great that we still have something to look forward to."
Said head coach Mike Fried on the accomplishment: "We had some awesome toughness today in a match that was a lot closer than the score. I'm incredibly happy for the whole team to get a chance to see all their hard work pay off, and especially for the seniors who have been working for four years specifically with the goal of making the Elite 8."
- Wesleyan's best-ever season continues on Monday, May 21 in Claremont, Calif. in the national quarterfinals, hosted by Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. The event in California will also feature the singles and doubles national championships, where Eudice Chong and Victoria Yu will play in both events beginning on Thursday, May 24.
-- Recap by Ben Shapiro --