MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – The second-seeded Wesleyan women's tennis team took downed top-seeded Middlebury 5-2 to win its first-ever NESCAC Championship on Sunday. Despite falling behind 2-1 after doubles, the Cardinals battled back in singles with their best performance of the year, winning four tough matches to secure the victory.
The No. 4 Cardinals topped No. 14 Bowdoin 5-1 in semifinal action on Saturday, while No. 3 Middlebury blanked Amherst 5-0 to advance to the Championship. The finals matchup was the first time that the championship did not feature Amherst of Williams, with both teams vying for their first-ever title. With the conference crown, Wesleyan earns an automatic bid into the 2019 NCAA Tournament, and will wait to hear about hosting a regional round.
- At #3, Alissa Nakamoto and Alexis Almy exchanged breaks with their opponents for the first half of the set, but the duo edged ahead at the end of the pro-set thanks to confident movement at the net and a heavy dose of powerful returns.
- At #1 and #2, the Panthers proved to be too solid, making it very tough for the Cardinals to put balls away. At #1, Northeast fourth-ranked tandem Victoria Yu and Kristina Yu fell to third-ranked Heather Boehm and Annmartin Skelly. At #2, Venia Yeung and Polina Kiseleva battled hard, but were overcome by Skylar Schossberger and Katherine Hughes.
- All six singles matches were close, and none of the six courts had matches that were foregone conclusions. The only completed straight-sets match came at #3, where Northeast eighth-ranked Kristina Yu topped seventh-ranked Christina Puccinelli 7-5, 6-4.
- With the match tied 2-2, Kiseleva gave the Cardinals their first lead of the day with a come from behind 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 win at #4 over Schossberger. Kiseleva lost the first set quickly, but made the necessary adjustments to race through the second, before setting up a showdown in the third where the sophomore's grit and determination got her over the line.
- Almy played with a level of fire and intensity that exceeded all of her prior matches. The freshman came out of the gates, playing untouchable tennis in the first set, winning 6-1, before going back and forth in a critical second set. Despite dropping a tough tiebreak 7-5, she regrouped incredibly well, taking the third 6-1 to put Wesleyan on the brink of the title.
- Clinching the historic victory was Yeung at #2, who battled through three tight sets with Hughes, where the two left everything they had on the court for every point. Yeung and Hughes both pounded groundstrokes and moved each other around the court in an extremely physical match. Despite a dip in the third set that let Hughes back into the match, Yeung stayed tough in the biggest moments to finish off the match 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.
- Victoria Yu and Alissa Nakamoto did not finish their matches, but put in terrific performances at #1 and #6, respectively. At #1, Northeast fourth-ranked Yu came back from a 5-1 deficit in the first set to win in a tiebreak 7-3 against top-ranked Boehm. At #6, Nakamoto was hanging tough, up 7-5, 4-4 when the match was called.
FROM THE SOURCES:
- Senior captain Victoria Yu stated, "It was incredibly emotional, it being my last year and being the only senior, so this means a lot. I could not imagine a better end to the NESCAC tournament. I don't know how I came back in that first set. I really tried to play point by point and just hang in there and make her work. I tried to stay disciplined and focused. There are too many things [to be proud of.] I am proud of this team's grit and fight, and also their support for each other. I am proud of how we came out of doubles, fired up and ready to do whatever it took to come out on top."
- Head coach Mike Fried expressed, "I am so proud of our unity, heart and poise for such a young team. To compete with such grit, such cohesiveness – it really was a privilege to be a part of. I think it is a pretty special accomplishment for the women. The amount of work, commitment and support for each other has taken the program a long way. The contributions of every single person on the court, and the massive presence of Daniela Alvarez and Megan Tran, got us across the finish line – and we're thankful we are not in Kentucky and there's no stewards inquiry."
-- Recap by Ben Shapiro --