What a difference a year can make.
Last year, the women’s tennis team sent two players to the prestigious ITA All-American Championships and came up empty-handed, winning no matches. This year, four Bulldogs traveled to the same tournament in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and returned with quite different results. The tetrad won a total of 12 matches over the weekend.
Team captain Elizabeth Epstein ’13 led the charge for the Elis. Based on her No. 85 national ranking, Epstein earned a bid straight into the qualifying rounds of the tournament and avoided having to play the three extra pre-qualifying matches that her teammates Blair Seideman ’14 and Hanna Yu ’15 did.
In her first match, Epstein took down University of Tennessee’s Kata Szekely, the No. 28 player in the country, 3–6, 7–6(3), 6–4. Epstein thought that her win over Szekely, coupled with her teammates’ victories, went a long way toward establishing the Bulldogs as one of this year’s teams to beat.
“I definitely wanted to come out here and show everyone how good we were going to be this year,” Epstein said. “That win really helped make a statement. In general this weekend, we beat a ton of top-ranked schools. I think it just solidifies how good we’re going to be this year and helps get our name out there.”
Things didn’t get any easier in the second round of qualifying, as Epstein’s next matchup was with USC’s Kaitlyn Christian, the No. 54 player in the country. But Epstein made quick work of Christian as well, winning in straight sets, 6–3, 6–2. After beating two players with such lofty rankings, it would seem that Epstein faced her least formidable test in the next round against pre-qualifier Ema Burgic of Baylor. With a win, Epstein would have booked a place in the tournament’s main draw of 32 players. But at a tournament of this caliber, no win is certain, and on Wednesday, Burgic defeated Epstein, 6–4, 6–2.
Yu also sought a place in the main draw of the tournament, though she had a significantly longer road to get there. Until recently, it was not even clear whether Yu would participate in the All-American Championships. She was originally listed as an alternate, meaning she made the tournament because of other players’ withdrawals. If, for Yu, there was an element of entering this tournament through its back door, she firmly planted herself in its living room through her strong play.
It took Yu three sets to win each of her three pre-qualifying matches, but in the qualifiers she breezed through her first two opponents in straight sets. In the first round of the qualifying stage, Yu took down No. 75 Anna Depenau of the University of San Diego, 6–2, 6–3. Next up was No. 38 Nazari Urbina of Texas A&M, but Yu made quick work of her, too, winning 6–4, 6–2. Yu said she was pleased with the way she played, noting that her quick wins allowed her to avoid fatigue.
But her third opponent in qualifiers, No. 89 Aleksandra Josifoska of UNLV, proved too much, beating Yu 6–3, 6–1. While acknowledging that she was outplayed in her final match, Yu viewed her experience at the tournament in a very positive light.
“It was a really great experience because I didn’t know that I was coming to this tournament until a couple days before,” Yu said. “It was really nice to win a few matches in pre-qualies and almost make it into the main draw.”
Seideman was the third Eli entered in singles play and she, too, came through pre-qualifiers to make the qualifying draw. During pre-qualifiers, Seideman was in blistering form and won all three of her matches in straight sets. She won three of those sets 6–0. Seideman won a total of 36 games and lost just eight.
Seideman’s form carried into the first round of qualifiers, where she overcame UCLA’s Skylar Morton, ranked No. 70 in the country, 3–6, 7–5, 6–0. But Seideman’s next match would prove her last as she stumbled against Julia Elbaba of Virginia, a freshman who was among the top 15 national recruits. Despite falling short of her ultimate goal of making it through to the qualifying rounds, Seideman said the trip was a huge success for Yale women’s tennis.
“A lot of the [other] coaches are kind of talking about Yale,” Seideman said. “There’s no other Ivy school here doing things like we are. It’s a confidence builder for us and for our program coming here and doing well, winning against other excellent programs.”
In doubles, the Bulldogs enjoyed slightly less success than in singles. Yu and Seideman joined forces in pre-qualifiers, but fell in their first match against an Auburn pair, 9–7. The duo of Epstein and Annie Sullivan ’14, No. 40 in the ITA pre-season rankings, entered this tournament with a career record of 21–1. The pair went straight into the qualifying bracket, based on their national doubles ranking. After winning their first match against the No. 20 team in the country from Miami, the pair suffered its second collegiate loss against a team from DePaul, by a score of 8–3.
The Bulldogs will next compete in the ITA Regional Championships in West Point, NY, beginning on Oct. 19.