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Historic Women's Tennis Season Ends in Elite Eight as Cardinals Fall to Middlebury, 5-2

Photo by Ellen Friedlander
Photo by Ellen Friedlander

CLAREMONT, Calif. — Wesleyan's best season in program history ended on Monday in the NCAA quarterfinals, as the No. 5 Cardinals fell to No. 4 Middlebury in a tightly contested match hosted at Pomona-Pitzer. It was the third meeting between the two teams in the past month, and despite the final score being 5-2 this time around, it was the tightest match of the three, with both teams finding a new level from their previous encounters.

In the doubles, just like in their previous two matches, Wesleyan won at No. 1. This time, however, senior Eudice Chong and junior Victoria Yu had to fight back from a 6-3 deficit to overcome Skylar Schossberger and Katherine Hughes for an 8-6 win, earning the first point of the day.

At No. 2, freshmen Polina Kiseleva and Alissa Nakamoto hung right with Catherine Blayze and Maddi Stow throughout the match, staying much more competitive than they did in earlier meetings. In the end, it was still Middlebury that emerged victorious, as the Panthers held on to a late break to close it out 8-6.

With the score tied 1-1, it was clear how critical a match No. 3 doubles was. While seniors Helen Klass-Warch and Nicole McCann looked brilliant at times, they were unable to close out a few big points, giving Middlebury's Heather Boehm and Ann Martin Skelly all they needed to take advantage just enough to come away with an 8-5 victory.

Just like in their previous matches, Middlebury came out of the doubles with a 2-1 lead. Singles also followed a similar trajectory as the prior meetings at first, with Chong and Yu taking first sets for Wesleyan at No. 1 and No. 2 and Middlebury jumping out to leads on No. 3—No. 6.  Just when it looked like the same pattern was going to work for the Panthers, things began to change. At No. 5, Nakamoto raised her game remarkably, ripping groundstroke winners from all over the court to take her second set and force a third. At No. 3 and No. 6, Aashli Budhiraja and Klass-Warch—both seniors playing in what ended up being their final college match—creeped back into their second sets, keeping the pressure on Middlebury on every court.

Chong finished quickly to tie the match up at 2 with a 6-0, 6-2 win at No. 1 over Christina Puccinelli, but Middlebury regained the lead when Blayze took out Kiseleva 6-2, 6-1 at No. 4. With Yu, Budhiraja, Nakamoto, and Klass-Warch all remaining on court, the writing was on the wall—the Cardinals needed three of the four matches. The margin for error shrunk even more after Budhiraja fell 6-2, 7-5 to Boehm at No. 3 in what was an up-and-down second set.

Nakamoto jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the third set and Yu was also leading, so the attention began to shift to Klass-Warch at No. 6, who fought well and displayed a lot of grit and perseverance. The senior fought back from a set and down 4-1 to extend the second and try to force a third, but Middlebury's Stow stayed poised and determined to clinch the match with a 6-2, 7-5 win, meaning Yu and Nakamoto's matches went unfinished.

The match was a milestone for Wesleyan Tennis, as it marked the first time the women's team had competed at the finals site in the Elite 8. It was also the end of an era for the Cardinal seniors that have been part of a transformation of the program from unranked to now top-5 in the country. The impact of Nicole McCann, Aashli Budhiraja, Helen Klass-Warch, and Eudice Chong can't be understated, and their absence is likely to leave a void nearly impossible to replace.

UP NEXT:

  • While the Cardinals are eliminated from the NCAA team championships, Chong and Yu will both be representing Wesleyan in the individual tournament starting on Thursday. They both will start with singles matches not before 1:30 p.m. ET, with potential second round matches and doubles to follow later in the day.

-- Recap by Ben Shapiro --