One would think that for the women’s tennis team, ending the season in second place in the Ivy League and on a five-match winning streak would be enough of a fitting farewell for the team’s two seniors. But there may still be more at stake for the Bulldogs.
“I’d like to think that our final sendoff will be with an NCAA bid,” head coach Danielle Lund said.
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This weekend, the Bulldogs (11-8, 6-1 Ivy) concluded their regular season with a decisive 5-2 victory over last year’s Ivy champion Harvard (3-16, 1-5) on Friday before cementing their second-place finish Sunday in a tense 4-3 win over Dartmouth (8-11, 0-6). Furthermore, they ended the season at No. 67 in the ITA rankings — their first reappearance on the board since their short-lived stint at No. 71 early in March. New rankings are scheduled to come out today, so the Bulldogs could yet move up in the standings before the NCAA Tournament selection in May.
Things started out tough for the Bulldogs at their away match on Friday, as they dropped Nos. 1 and 2 doubles matches, 2-8 and 7-9, respectively. Even the 8-2 victory at No. 3 doubles wasn’t enough to turn things around, and for the first time since spring break, the Elis ceded the doubles point to their foes. History appeared ready to replay itself for the Yale, which hadn’t defeated Harvard in six years.
“Our doubles play this weekend was a little disappointing,” Christine Alford ’07 said. “We definitely became much more passive teams, and I think it was our high level of aggression that had made our doubles so effective in [the rest of] the season.”
But that loss just motivated them to perform more solidly in singles, as demonstrated by Alford, who disposed neatly of her No. 3 Cantab opponent, 6-1, 6-1. Captain Olivia Nix ’07 was next to finish at No. 5, adding her 6-0, 6-3 victory to the Bulldogs’ score, and Jessica Rhee ’10 at No. 4 singles took out her opponent, 6-1, 6-3. Lilian Nguyen ’09 clinched the match for the Bulldogs with her 6-2, 6-3 victory at No. 6, and Janet Kim’s ’09 triumph at No. 1 singles was icing on the cake — not least for Kim herself, whose match was against her childhood rival Lena Litvak.
“It was great for the team to be able to turn around from disappointing doubles play and refocus on singles,” Nix said. “Everyone came out more determined and took care of their own point, even though we felt more pressure. And I don’t think Yale has beaten Harvard since 2001, which was in the back of everyone’s mind … we put more pressure on ourselves because of that.”
Coming off the Cambridge victory, the Bulldogs then focused on the final match of the season, returning to New Haven to face the Big Green. For the second time in as many matches, the Elis fell in doubles play, losing at Nos. 2 and 3 doubles to give Dartmouth the point for the meeting.
But the squad “didn’t freak out,” Lund said. Instead, it proceeded to win four of six singles matches, eking out the 4-3 win over the Big Green. Led by Kim, who took her point in a straight-set victory, 6-2, 6-2, the Bulldogs also snagged the points for Nos. 2, 3 and 4 singles, ending the regular season with their closest Ivy League victory of 2007 and firmly establishing themselves in second place, just behind undefeated Penn (17-4, 7-0).
“It was a great end for our regular season given what our team has been through in the past year,” Lund said. “We had girls leave during the summer and we had three leave unexpectedly this year. So we quickly went from a squad of twelve to one of nine, and for a while we didn’t know if we could field a full lineup.”
The Bulldogs are now hoping for a continuation to the successful season via a pass to the NCAA Tournament. Without a first-place finish in the league, admission is not guaranteed, and without any more matches to play, the post-season is out of their hands, Nix said.
“Realistically, we have a slim chance of making it,” Lund said. “But it’s still a chance. They’ll have a selection show on ESPN on May 1, and so we’ll watch the show together as they decide the fate of our team.”
Regardless of what happens, Alford said, the season was a triumph and something to be proud of — not in the least because it was her final season at Yale. And looking back, she wouldn’t change anything, she said.
“No regrets,” Alford said. “That’s our team motto. We put in all the hard work every day of practice, so at the end of a season, there are never any regrets.”