For the members of Yale’s women’s tennis team, this past weekend’s Maryland Invite Tournament was about more than just wins and losses; it was about proving that the Elis can compete with — and beat — some of the sport’s national powerhouses.
In a tournament of big conference schools — the University of Maryland, Louisiana State and Pennsylvania State among them — two Yalies, Janet Kim ’09 and Lilian Nguyen ’09, reached the “A” singles and “B” singles flight finals, respectively. Another two Bulldogs, Jessica Rhee ’10 and Sarah Lederhandler ’10, fought their way to flight consolation finals. And though only Lederhandler came away with a title, the team as a whole returned to Yale with an important lesson learned.
“The fact that we were playing against higher-ranked teams and beating them helped us realize that we do belong up there,” Kim said. “We have the potential to have results as good as theirs.”
From the outset, the Bulldogs certainly played like a top team. On Friday, three of Yale’s five singles players and two of three doubles teams won their matches. The following day brought more Eli successes, as both Kim and Nguyen battled through tough matches to advance to their flight finals.
In her semifinal match, Kim faced the University of Maryland’s top player, Marianne Baker. For Kim, this pairing was particularly meaningful. A year earlier, at the same tournament, Kim had lost to Baker, 6-4, 6-3.
This time, things were different. Kim played a tight match and walked away with a 6-1, 6-3 victory.
“I came in knowing I was the underdog,” Kim said. “But I managed the match really well, and [Baker] couldn’t get her game going.”
But as Sunday rolled around, the Bulldogs couldn’t manage to turn their early-round successes into flight titles. On the tournament’s closing day, only Lederhandler emerged with a victory, downing Maryland’s Lisa Miller, 6-3, 6-7, 6-0, to close out the flight “B” consolation title. In other matches, Kim fell to Maryland’s Eleanor Peters, 6-1, 6-3, in the flight “A” finals, and Nguyen and Rhee also lost in the flight “B” finals and flight “A” consolation finals, respectively.
For Nguyen, getting so deep in the tournament and then losing was frustrating.
“I knew I really wanted to win, and I really wanted Janet to win as well,” she said. “But under the circumstances, on that day, these girls were better.”
Despite falling short in the tournament’s final round, Nguyen and her teammates said they came out of the weekend feeling good about the team’s future prospects.
“I think everyone played really well,” Lindsay Dashiell ’08 said. “This was only our second tournament, after only our second week of practice.”
Christine Alford ’07 also said she thinks the team is heading in the right direction.
“It was certainly an improvement on our previous tournament, in Princeton,” she said. “In a few of my games, I was stepping up, hitting the ball out, playing aggressively and thinking, ‘This is how I want to be playing all the time.’”
Facing a tough schedule peppered with Division I powerhouses, Alford and company know they need to keep improving if they hope to have a successful year. Still, that doesn’t mean they can’t pause to enjoy some early triumphs.
“Both of our tournaments so far have gone really well,” Nguyen said. “Hopefully, with a start like this, it’ll only get better.”