Following a 2–5 Ivy League campaign last year, the Yale women’s tennis team will kick off 2017 conference competition this weekend at Brown.
Last spring, the then-No. 67 Bulldogs (7–9, 0–0 Ivy) finished their season with a 5–2 loss against the then-No. 62 Bears (9–5, 0–0), the last of four consecutive losses to conclude the season. According to head coach Danielle McNamara, Yale’s rematch with Brown at the outset of Ivy League play is an opportunity both for tight competition and early success.
“Every [individual match] is going to be very competitive,” McNamara said. “They’re a deep team. … We scrimmaged them in January. We had a lot of really close matches with them, so I think that it’ll be a very tough battle, but I don’t think there’s a single position that we’re not capable of winning.”
Brown, which finished fifth in the 2016 Ivy League standings, won five singles matches in the teams’ last meeting at Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center to overshadow Yale’s doubles victory and lone singles win by Elizabeth Zordani ’18.
Though last year’s Bulldogs entered their bout with the Bears sagging under a three-match losing streak, the 2017 Yale squad enters its matchup on a recent hot streak. The Elis have won seven of their past nine matches, most recently triumphing 7–0 over Boston University and 5–2 over Stony Brook. Yale’s victory over the Seawolves included wins in four of six singles matches; No. 3 Valerie Shklover’s ’18 6–0, 6–1 victory over Stony Brook’s Ester Chikvashvili and No. 6 Opala Dhingra’s ’20 6–2, 6–3 sweep of Anniki Hierl highlighted the team’s success up and down the ladder.
According to Zordani, who won her No. 6 singles match by a 7–6, 4–6, 10–8 score against Brown’s Ammu Mandalap in last year’s season finale, close competition is to be expected in the Ancient Eight.
“We should … expect a battle every single match because, especially in the Ivy League, any match can go either way,” she said. “It’s a very, very close league. We should take confidence in the fact that anyone can beat anyone on any day and trust in our preparation and what we’ve been doing with our coaches.”
Since the start of the 2017 season, Brown has won nine of its 14 matches. The Bears’ most recent action, a 5–2 loss to Long Beach State, ended a three-match win streak which also included a 7–0 sweep over the Terriers. Brown senior Dayna Lord and junior Alyza Benotto have traded time in the No. 1 and No. 2 positions this season, combining to win eight of their last 10 individual matches atop the ladder.
But the pair will face stiff challenges from Yale’s top singles players, as No. 1 Carol Finke ’18, No. 2 Amy Yang ’19 and Shklover have combined for a 6–3 record in the team’s last three matches.
“Our team is really excited to get out, compete and fight for the Ivy championship,” Caroline Lynch ’17 said. “We’re going to focus on going out there, playing confidently and executing the fundamentals well.”
Yale’s conference debut this weekend marks the first of four consecutive Ivy League matches against teams that beat the Bulldogs last season. After traveling to Providence this Sunday, the Elis will host Dartmouth before going back on the road for three straight contests. The April 15 road contest at Penn, whom Yale beat in its 2016 season opener, will be its last away match of the season before returning home to face Cornell and Columbia.
The Bulldogs and the Bears will face off in Providence on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Steven Rome contributed reporting.