The pressure is on for the Yale women’s tennis team this weekend.
Two Ivy League heavyweights take the court when the No. 40 Bulldogs (11–4) welcome defending league champions No. 33 Princeton to the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center for their Ivy opener. The Elis will also take on Penn’s Quakers at home on Saturday.
“This is a really exciting part of the season,” Stevi Petrelli ’11 said. “We’ve put in all the work necessary to do well, and we’re all really looking forward to going out and having fun.”
The Tigers (14–5) are the only Ivy team currently ranked higher than Yale. Both teams have won five matches against ranked opponents this season, while Penn (4–9) has won just one road match so far.
Many of the Elis consider Princeton their toughest opponent in the Ivy League, primarily because of the team’s veteran players.
“They only have one freshman in the line-up, so they have a lot of experience,” head coach Danielle McNamara said.
All but one of the current Tigers were part of last year’s squad, which captured the Ivy championship with a record of 6–1. The team’s only conference loss last year came in a match against the Bulldogs, who have not fallen to Princeton since head McNamara took the helm in 2006.
McNamara and her players emphasized that they are already familiar with the Tigers’ styles and strengths since Princeton’s roster is so similar to last season’s line-up.
“We know how a lot of those girls play, so we can go in there with some strategy, which is always helpful,” captain Sarah Lederhandler ’10 said.
Although the Elis will have the additional benefit of playing at home, this weekend will be the first time this year that they have played outdoors at the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center.
The Bulldogs lost their two other outdoor matches over spring break to No. 14 South Florida and No. 41 Florida International.
“We’ve learned a lot from our matches in Florida,” McNamara said. “You have to play really smart tennis when you’re outside because there are so many more elements — the sun, the wind — you have to use those to your advantage.”
To prepare for this weekend’s contests, the team spent last week focusing on the specific areas each player needed to work on.
Lederhandler said working in small groups with McNamara and assistant coach Christian Thompson was beneficial and allowed her to work on returning hard shots, as well as serving and volleying for doubles.
This past week of practice has been more focused on competition, McNamara said. Players have competed against one another in singles and doubles scrimmages in order to simulate the pressures of a real match.
“I’m sure we’ll have many situations that will be tight [on Friday],” McNamara said. “For us, being able to stay calm and relaxed and confident throughout the whole thing will be key.”
Friday’s match against Princeton begins at 2 p.m., and Saturday’s match versus Penn starts at noon. After Saturday’s match, local children are invited to participate in a free one-hour tennis clinic with members of the team as a part of national Campus Kids Day.