The Ivy League just got served.
After thrashing Harvard (2-15, 2-3 Ivy), 7-0, on Friday at home, the women’s tennis team (11-8, 7-0) had guaranteed themselves at least a share of the conference title. And after a 4-3 victory over Dartmouth (15-3, 3-3) yesterday, the Elis proved themselves the only Ivy team deserving of the crown, winning their first Ivy League title since 1989 and their first outright title since 1981.
Having defeated all seven of their Ivy League foes, the Bulldogs will enter their first NCAA Tournament in Eli tennis history in two weeks. The last time the Elis won the Ivy conference outright, 27 years ago, an NCAA bracket for women did not exist.
“We made history today,” Lindsey Dashiell ’08 said Sunday night.
Although Friday’s win against Harvard brought the team to 6-0 for the season, head coach Danielle Lund said the team sought to maintain focus to win in its final matchup against Dartmouth on Sunday.
Traveling to Hanover yesterday, the Bulldogs would again claim victory, albeit with more difficulty this time. The Big Green came out strong in doubles and at the Nos. 4 and 5 positions, but the Elis answered back to clinch the remaining four points.
In doubles, Janet Kim ’09 and Jessica Rhee ’10 dropped a 9-7 decision at No. 1 and Dashiell and Stevi Petrelli ’11 lost, 8-5, for the second time in a row at No. 3.
“We made a lot of mistakes on balls we couldn’t afford to make mistakes on,” Lund said. “The doubles point is something we can work on.”
To avenge the one-point deficit, though, the queen of Yale singles bracket rushed to straight-set victories: Kim defeated Dartmouth’s Molly Scott, 6-1, 7-5, at No. 1, and Rhee captured a narrow victory, 7-6, 7-5, at No. 2.
“[Rhee] was down 5-2 in the first and came back. Then she was down 3-0 in the second and came back,” Lund said. “I could hear her and sense her fighting for every point. That was a big win for us.”
However, Dartmouth handed straight-set losses to Sarah Lederhandler ’10 at No. 4, 6-3, 7-5, and Petrelli at No. 5, 7-6, 6-2, bringing the overall score to 3-2 in favor of the Big Green. The outcome of the match hinged on two freshmen — Lindsay Clark ’11 at No. 3 and Lauren Ritz ’11 at No. 6 — who would both need to secure victories for the Bulldogs to claim an undefeated Ivy League season and sole possession of the conference title.
But the freshmen held strong. Ritz cruised to a 6-1, 6-1 romp of opponent Ryan Reichel. The win is the seventh-straight for the freshman — the only Yale player who can claim a perfect, undefeated Ivy League season.
At 3-3, and with Clark heading into a third-set tiebreaker, the match could have gone either way. Clark had lost her first set, 6-1, “in the snap of the fingers,” according to captain Lilian Nguyen ’09. Clark, however, said she tried to keep as calm as possible, not allowing the pressure surrounding her to affect her point-by-point climb toward victory. She deflected two of her opponent’s match points while down, 6-5, in the third set, coming back to force a tiebreaker.
“I think we were all mentally preparing for a long bus ride home at that point,” Lund remembered. “But then, it turned around.”
Silia DeFillipis ’11 remembered the moment: “During Lindsay’s match, Danielle [Lund] told her, ‘Trust yourself.’ If you don’t believe you can do it, you can’t give yourself a chance to win. We believed in ourselves, in each other and in our preparation even when others doubted us. That has made all the difference.”
Clark rallied for the final two points — after losing the previous three straight — at 6-6 in the tiebreaker, winning her set, her match, the match for Yale, the league for Yale and an uncontested invite to the NCAA tournament.
“I had to believe in myself,” Clark said after the match. “I don’t know if I would have been able to do this without my teammates. It was all mental in the third set.”
Ritz and Clark had finished their matches within minutes of one another and, as the teammates rushed together after the overall match had been clinched, Nguyen said everyone was overcome with emotion.
“We were all bawling … it was the most bittersweet … it was the most amazing moment of my life,” Nguyen said. “After agility in the off-season, 6 a.m. practices … I’ve seen everyone grow so much, and we have worked so hard. I am so proud of this team.”
But before the dramatics Sunday, the Bulldogs had to take care of Harvard on their home courts Friday.
The Elis came out strong at every position, sweeping all six singles matches after securing the doubles point and shutting out the Crimson, 7-0.
In doubles, an 8-6 win by Clark and Ritz at No. 2, followed by an 8-5 victory by the then-undefeated team of Kim and Rhee, clinched the doubles point for the Bulldogs. Dashiell and Petrelli failed to come through for the sweep, losing their match at No. 3 in a narrow 8-6 decision.
Jumping into the singles matches, the Elis held their momentum to secure early one-set leads at Nos. 2 to 6. Ritz captured a 6-2, 6-1 victory at No. 6 while Rhee won at No. 2, 6-4, 6-2, bringing Yale to an immediate 3-0 lead over Harvard.
Meanwhile, Clark dropped her second set in a hard-fought 6-4 decision at No. 3, Petrelli lost her second set in a tiebreaker at No. 2 and Kim battled into a third set at No. 1.
On the other side of the outdoor courts, however, Lederhandler powered to a straight-set victory to capture the pivotal fourth point for the Bulldogs, winning 6-2, 7-5 at No. 4.
Shortly afterward, Kim rolled to victory over No. 77 Beier Ko, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Clark rebounded to win 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. Petrelli finished in a 10-point tiebreak in her third set, winning 6-1, 4-6, 10-7, and claiming the final point for the Yale victory.
“Against Harvard you could tell,” Dashiell said, “You could tell how determined and motivated and focused we were, with the goal in mind.”