Yale Athletics

After suffering a narrow 4–3 defeat to Brown last weekend, the Yale women’s tennis team learned once again just how small the margin of error is in Ivy League play.

The Ancient Eight is a deep league with a high concentration of talent, which translates into a constant stream of competitive matches. The Bulldogs (7–10, 0–1 Ivy) are seeking to transform their vast improvements over the course of the season into a climb up the Ivy League standings, where they finished in last place in 2016, and this weekend will be a test of their ability to gain the edge in close contests.

On Friday, Yale will first take on No. 43 Dartmouth (12–3, 0–1), the only nationally ranked conference team, followed by a Sunday road trip to Harvard (13–6, 1–0) — which, though it placed alongside the Elis last season, just toppled the Big Green.

“Similar to Brown, spot-for-spot at each position we’re going to be pretty evenly matched [with Dartmouth],” head coach Danielle McNamara said. “They’re all matches we’re capable of winning, so it’s really just going to be [a matter of] … playing confidently and going after it, leaving it all out there at each position and really being tough.”

The middle five teams in the Ivy League were separated by just one game last season, and such congestion in the standings is primed to return in the 2017 campaign. Just as the Bulldogs’ tilt with Brown was separated by a single match, the Crimson eked out a 4–3 victory over the Big Green.

Last Sunday, with the Elis and Bears locked at two points apiece, Valerie Shklover ’18 spot lost two consecutive sets via tiebreakers in a crucial match at the No. 4 singles spot. According to McNamara, the most important factors in reversing the outcome of points like those — which can swing whole matches — are aggressiveness and “playing to win.”

“The key is to stay focused and have a short-term memory when it comes to mistakes,” Shklover added.

To secure the doubles point at Brown, No. 3 Caroline Lynch ’17 and Amy Yang ’19 won enough of those decisive points in a close tiebreaker. Starting off matchups with doubles wins has been a point of emphasis for McNamara this season.

McNamara had tinkered with the pairings for the first Ivy showdown, and she indicated that she will likely maintain the same seedings this weekend.

Still, the Big Green is a doubles powerhouse, coming into Friday’s match having won the doubles point against seven of its past nine opponents. But the Elis’ No. 1 doubles team of Elizabeth Zordani ’18 and captain Tina Jiang ’17 has experience handling Dartmouth’s duos. In October, the two sides met at the Bulldog Invitational, and Zordani and Jiang surged past the Big Green’s top combination of co-captain Taylor Ng and Allison McCann, 6–3.

The Crimson, meanwhile, has managed just a 22–23 record in doubles matches since the start of the dual season.

“This weekend, I think the key is continuing to focus on coming out strong in doubles and capturing the doubles point,” Carol Finke ’18 said. “That initial momentum is key against Dartmouth and Harvard, which both have very strong singles lineups.”

Ng, who was ranked No. 103 in the country at one point this season, is also Dartmouth’s top singles player, with an 18–8 overall singles record and seven wins in her last 10 matches. She beat Jiang at the Bulldog Invitational, part of a Big Green rout in which just two Yale competitors notching singles victory.

Dartmouth also topped the Elis last year in Ivy play in yet another 4–3 decision. In the No. 6 slot, Zordani picked up a singles win, and Finke and Shklover were able to steer the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles units to victories after Ng won her No. 1 doubles match.

McNamara, though, cited the team’s growth over the course of the season, her first after returning from a two-year separation from the program.

“Regardless of the results in the league this year, our team has improved so much,” she said. “The wins are great — they feel good and we want those — but I just think it’s about getting every ounce of experience that we can out of these matches, and it’s just a matter of time before these close ones go our way.”

When Yale returns to the road for its match at Harvard, it will confront another rapidly improving team. The Crimson finished 2–5 in the league in 2016, but it helped bury those memories with its defeat of the Big Green last Sunday to continue a streak of nine wins in its last 10 attempts.

No. 1 singles player Erica Oosterhout has posted an 11–4 record in the dual season, culminating in a come-from-behind triumph over Dartmouth’s Ng after dropping the first set. June Lee, slotted right behind Oosterhout, is no less intimidating, as she will put an eight-game singles winning streak on the line this weekend.

Last year, Harvard nearly swept Yale in a 6–1 decision. With both teams angling to assert themselves as top-tier programs in the conference, close matches are to be expected — though in the Ivy League, that is nothing new.

Sunday’s clash is the Elis’ only match that will be televised on the Ivy League Digital Network.