A fall season of hard work paid off as the Yale women’s tennis team had the opportunity to compete at the national level last weekend right in its own backyard. With three Bulldogs representing Yale at the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships held at the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center, the team proved its ability to compete at a high level.
“The level of play on the whole was higher than regionals, but some of our results showed that we are worthy of competing at this level,” Vicky Brook ’12, who appeared in two matches this weekend with her doubles partner Stephanie Kent ’12, said.
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Kent and Brook fell narrowly in their first match to Fresno Pacific’s Vanessa Heroux and Katie Sabate on Thursday. After a series of comeback games from Kent and Brook, the close match ended in a 9–8 tiebreaker loss for the Elis against the duo from Fresno, Calif.
There was no easing into the tougher competition for the Bulldogs — each Yale player faced top-level opponents early on in the tournament.
“Because the players were the top in the nation, every match was going to be a challenge,” Jessica Rhee ’10 said. “This was a clear difference from regionals, where the tougher matches were later in the tournament.”
Head coach Danielle McNamara added: “I knew every single match they had was going to be a tough one; these are the best players in the country. But I knew that if they played well they would have a chance to beat some of these players.”
Only hours after the doubles match Thursday morning, Rhee and Kent made their tournament debuts in the singles draw. Kent pushed University of Washington’s No. 8 seeded Venise Chan to her limits before falling 6–4 in the third set. Rhee competed against Allie Will of Florida and fought hard before falling to the number six seed.
Both singles performances against highly-ranked opponents once again showed that the Bulldogs can hold their own in a pool of the top 34 players in the nation.
The most exciting Yale performance of the tournament occurred Friday when Kent came out on top in the exhilarating consolation singles match. Kent defeated the No. 10 nationally-ranked Fani Chifchieva from Auburn in two sets. Kent came out strong in a 7–6 tiebreaker to win the first set, before finishing on top 6–4 in the second set.
“Never before have I had so many people supporting me under one roof,” Kent said. “My coaches, teammates, family and the volunteers made this entire competition unforgettable.”
The importance of the weekend went beyond the success on the court for the Bulldogs. Yale once again had the chance to host an important tournament at the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center, this time bringing in players from all over the country.
For Brook, seeing her doubles partner triumph over the No. 10 Chifchieva was the highlight of the tournament.
“It reflected all of the hard work the team puts in on a daily basis, and we were so excited to see it pay off for Steph,” Brook said. “Her success resonates through the team, and we couldn’t be more proud.”
The weekend ended on a high note with Kent’s win, but simply hosting the event was an achievement in of itself, Director of Tennis Operations Duke Diaz said.
“I think the first obvious benefit is that it showcases out program and our wonderful university to some of the finest athletes in the country,” Diaz said. “That’s a feather in our cap as a tennis program and athletic department here at Yale.”
Fourth-seeded Jana Juricova of California defeated No. 2 Irina Falconi of Georgia Tech 6–4, 7–6(4) in the singles’ finals, and No. 2 seed Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette of Stanford outlasted the top-seeded duo of Natalie Pluskota and Caitlin Whoriskey of Tennessee 4–6, 6–2, 7–6(4) to claim the doubles’ title.