The members of the women’s tennis team believe they have what it takes to go all the way this season.
Head coach Danielle McNamara cited the team’s tenacity, experience and outstanding doubles play as the factors that will make a difference and allow the No. 43 Bulldogs (8–1) to capture their second Ivy title in the past three years.
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“Whenever I’m with them, I get the sense that they’re on a mission,” McNamara said. “They’re not going to settle for anything less than their best, and that’s when you really do get great results.”
McNamara said this group of players has performed better in doubles matches than any team she’s coached in her four years at Yale. McNamara and her team have stressed the importance of the doubles point because it is the first point in the match and sets the tone before going into singles competition.
“It’s definitely been a focus of our season, and everyone on our team is a good doubles player,” said team captain Sarah Lederhandler ’10, who plays No. 3 doubles with Stevi Petrelli ’111.
She said that she and Petrelli have learned a lot from playing practice matches against McNamara and assistant coach Christian Thompson, who played at Michigan and Notre Dame, respectively.
“We talk a lot about making the first three shots,” Petrelli said. “Your serve and your return are huge.”
The Elis’ dedication to doubles play has paid off so far. In the nine matches they’ve played this season, the Bulldogs have lost the doubles point only twice, including a loss to No. 1 Duke.
McNamara video-taped the doubles matches from last weekend’s ECAC tournament, during which the Elis defeated Boston University, Harvard and Dartmouth to win the championship. During practices this week, the team will be review the footage, looking for elements of their game that they can continue work on for upcoming matches.
In addition to their doubles play, the Bulldogs are optimistic about their prospects for the season because of the amount of experience on their roster. Six players returned from the Bulldogs team that finished a match out of first place last season, five of whom were starters.
“When you’ve been in the situation before it’s easy to anticipate the ups and downs that come in the matches,” Petrelli said.
But the newest Elis are also expected to play key roles on the team this season. Sophomore Stephanie Kent ’12, who was ranked No. 87 in the ITA’s individual rankings at the beginning of the season, transferred from Cornell to play No.1 singles for the Bulldogs. Yale has also added to its roster freshman recruit Elizabeth Epstein ’13, ranked No.122 in the nation, as well as Jenna Ritz ’13.
Veterans on the team have been impressed by how quickly the newest Bulldogs have integrated themselves into the program. Epstein in particular has been a standout, winning six of the seven singles matches she has played thus far.
“She conforms to the expectations that are set by the other players and those expectations are pretty high,” McNamara said. “She’s a competitive person and she’s stepped up and done a great job.”
Epstein said that despite some nerves during her first matches, she has felt welcomed by her teammates.
“Everyone’s been really supportive, especially the seniors,” she said.
Although the official Ivy League season does not start until April 2 when the Elis will take on Princeton at home, the team got a preview of their competition at the ECAC tournament last weekend. As a result of the Bulldogs’ victory at the tournament, which featured seven of the eight Ivies, Jessica Rhee ’10 and her teammates are confident.
“We’re definitely the team to beat,” Rhee said.
The Bulldogs will be challenged this coming weekend when they take on No. 44 William & Mary on Saturday and No. 19 Vanderbilt on Sunday at the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center. The Elis will put their 22-game home winning streak on the line.
Saturday’s match will be followed by “Meet the Bulldogs Day,” a special promotion organized by the team’s fan club, The Blue Aces. The event will feature free food, drinks and posters and team members will be available for autographs and photos.