After dropping three consecutive contests to nationally ranked teams — No. 52 Ohio State, No. 67 Nebraska and No 42. Wake Forest — the No. 73 Yale Bulldogs (3-3) dusted themselves off this past Saturday, easily defeating Syracuse 5-2 at the Cullman Courts.

“Even with our losses, we were still in the national rankings based on our ‘strength of schedule,'” Yale head coach Chad Skorupka said. “We know we can compete with the major conference teams.”

This weekend, the Elis came out to a fast start, winning the first two doubles matches with ease. The showdown at the first seed was a gritty battle to the finish. Despite missing her regular partner Ashley Martin ’04, captain Karlyn Martin ’04 and replacement Christine Alford ’07 won key rallies to eke out a 9-8 tiebreaker win.

“We were down 8-7 in the match, and we played a really solid game to get to 8 all and force a tiebreaker,” said Karlyn Martin ’04. “Then we got off to a quick start in the tiebreaker which is always important because they go so quickly. Although Christine and I had a tough match, everyone else [in doubles] crushed their opponents, so we had a lot of confidence as a team heading into singles.”

In fact, the Orangemen could never really recover from the early sweep. To Syracuse’s credit, top seed Trine Lise Juliussen and second seed Ashley Lipton did muster close victories over Yale’s Martin (6-3, 7-6 (4)) and Alford (6-1, 5-7, 10-6), respectively. But the rest of the Bulldogs more than made up for the losses as Yale’s four other seeds each won their respective matches in straight sets.

Highlighting this decisive victory was the stellar debut of Eli rookie Olivia Nix at the fourth spot. Nix, who was sidelined for the entire fall season with a back injury, won her first singles match for Yale in straight sets (6-2, 6-4) over Syracuse’s Wei-Ming Leong. For Nix, the victory symbolized the end to a frustrating fall season that she spent on the bench.

“I was pretty nervous in my match,” said Nix. “Since I was hurt in the summer, I haven’t played a tournament in a long time, but it felt really good to be competing again. I was happy with the way it went.”

Nix and Alford were not the only freshmen whose contributions were key to the Elis’ victory. Fellow freshmen Aimee Kim ’07 and Rashmee Patil ’07 won their second seed doubles match 8-0. Kim also won her singles match at the sixth spot over Marion Charlier.

To Skorupka, the success of his freshmen did not come as a surprise.

“It’s always nice seeing the freshmen play to their potential,” said Skorupka. “Also, with an injury it gives them an opportunity to get ‘match tough’ and experience. The season is long and all need to be ready ‘to jump in’ at any time.”

While generally in other varsity sports, freshmen are usually limited to cheerleading roles, Yale women’s tennis depends on its freshman for consistent contributions. In Alford, Kim, Nix, and Patil, the Bulldogs have a group of talented rookies capable of holding their own. All four flashed glimpses of their current abilities and future potential.

“They have all risen to the task,” said Martin. “Their contributions both on and off the court have been amazing.”

Now, after putting their short-lived losing skid to a halt, the Bulldogs must maintain their focus during a long layoff before they head to Florida during spring break for matches against three schools — University of Central Florida, Florida International and Florida Atlantic.

“All of our matches [over spring break] will be battles,” said Skorupka. “We get down a couple days early to train and get used to hitting outside, it’s our first opportunity to play outside and prepare for the Ivy season in April. Central Florida presents a great opportunity for us.”

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”18031″ ]