In beating Princeton on Sunday to win the ECAC Indoor Championship for a fourth consecutive year, the No. 25 Yale women’s tennis team (6-1 overall, 0-0 Ivy) continued its torrid start to the spring season.
Hosted by Yale at the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center, the tournament featured eight teams from the conference and three days of play. On Friday, the No. 1-seeded Bulldogs defeated No. 8-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson (4-4, 0-0 NEC) 7-0, including a clean 3-0 sweep of the doubles matches to win the doubles point.
In the semifinals on Saturday, the opponent was different, but the score line remained the same as the Elis ran over No. 54 Boston College (6-4, 1-1 ACC) 7-0.
On Sunday, Yale met No. 43 Princeton in the finals. The Tigers (5-2, 0-0 Ivy) were the No. 3 seed in the ECAC tournament, and Yale’s opponent in the finals last year. Princeton proved more formidable opposition, but the Bulldogs pulled out a 4-2 victory.
Yale secured the doubles point, as all three pairs won their matches. In fact, the Eli duos won all nine of their matches last weekend. At No. 1, Vicky Brook ’12 and Hanna Yu ’15, ranked No. 27 nationally, pulled out an 8-7 triumph over Princeton’s No. 1 doubles pair, Hilary Bartlett and Lindsay Graff. At Nos. 2 and 3, Yale’s No. 37 pair Elizabeth Epstein ’13 and Annie Sullivan ’14, and No. 41 pair captain Steph Kent ’12 and Blair Seideman ’14 enjoyed a bit more comfort, tallying 8-4 and 8-5 wins, respectively. (Seideman is a staff photographer for the News.)
Leading 1-0, all the Bulldogs needed for the championship were three of their six singles match points. Singles play got underway at No. 3, where Yu defeated her Princeton counterpart Rachel Saiontz 1-6, 6-1, 6-1, to give the Elis a 2-0 lead. The story was similar at No. 1, where Epstein battled back against Bartlett to win 2-6, 6-2, 6-1. Epstein chalked up her comeback to more aggressive play.
“I was a lot more aggressive going into the second set,” Epstein said. “[Bartlett] is great at mixing up her shots, and I just tried to take the high balls on the rise. She’s very good at mixing up the pace, and I was able to handle that much better in the second and third sets.”
After tight losses for Seideman and Sullivan at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, Kent gave her team the fourth point it needed with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 success at No. 4.
Much like Epstein, in the tournament-clinching match, Kent took the initiative. She said her opponent lacked a serious weapon in her game, which put the pressure on Kent to win every point.
Yale head coach Danielle McNamara agreed with her captain and stressed her team’s patience and grit in topping a tough-to-beat Princeton team.
“Our players were just very gritty and determined to get out there and play really long points and do whatever it took to win the matches,” McNamara said. “Princeton makes a lot of balls and gives you a lot of chances to beat yourself. You have to play aggressively against them but you also have to make your shots.”
Already this spring, the Bulldogs have defeated No. 21 Notre Dame, No. 31 Oklahoma, and No. 32 Arkansas. Their only loss came against No. 10 Michigan in a nail-biter, 4-3. Currently, Yale is the highest ranked Ivy League team at No. 25 in the country, followed by Brown at No. 38 and Princeton at No. 43.
Yale’s lofty ranking has both positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, stepping up and beating the likes of Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Princeton is the only true way for the team to test itself.
“Even though we won ECAC last year, we are ranked higher this year and we’re fairing much better against the higher nationally ranked teams,” Seideman said. “Beating Princeton makes a statement and proves we deserve to be the highest ranked Ivy.”
But moving forward, all of Yale’s opponents will be looking to take down the giants.
“To be honest, I feel like every match is going to be a test,” McNamara said. “We’ve had a fair amount of success so far this season, so every team we play is going to be gunning for us. We need to consistently show up.”
Next weekend, Yale travels to Syracuse, N.Y., to take on No. 60 William & Mary and No. 73 Syracuse.