Yale Athletics

After notching four Ivy League wins last season, the women’s tennis team looks to build on its success and continue the upward trend. Though the Elis went without a single victory in the 2017–18 season, they made large strides last year, completing the season with a 4–3 conference record.

This year, the team welcomes four first years — Vivian Cheng ’23, Kelsea Chung ’23, Rena Lin ’23 and Rhea Shrivastava ’23 — to the existing seven-women squad. Despite their relative inexperience, the Elis put up strong numbers last season. In the spring, they opened Ivy play with three wins in a row, defeating Brown, Columbia and Cornell. The Bulldogs claimed their fourth win of the campaign with a clean sweep of Dartmouth and return Samantha Martinelli ’21, who spearheaded the Eli assault on the Ancient Eight.

“I don’t think [not having seniors] is an obstacle. It’s a strength, and having young, ambitious players on the court will help us perform to our best abilities,” captain Caroline Dunleavy ’21 said. “While some could underestimate our young team, we are very motivated and our first-year class puts us at a great advantage this season.”

No. 2 seed Dunleavy transferred from Notre Dame as a sophomore for the 2018–19 season and immediately made an impact. In her first season with the Elis, she helped improve the Bulldogs’ conference record from 0–7 in their 2017-18 season to 4–3 in their 2018-19 campaign. Dunleavy played at no. 2 singles and no. 2 doubles, notching 21 singles and 19 doubles wins in her first season. As a result of her standout season, the Connecticut native was named the John A. Blum ’75 Most Improved Player and earned her First-Team All-Ivy honors.

Martinelli and Jessie Gong ’22 also return to the fold this season. Martinelli earned herself First-Team All-Ivy honors for singles and joined Gong in receiving second-team All-Ivy honors for doubles. This year, Martinelli will again lead the Eli charge at no. 1 singles. Over time, she has had her fair share of comeback victories, including a dramatic victory over Columbia in which she came back to win in a three-set thriller after dropping the first set 6-1.

Without seniors on the team, juniors Dunleavy, Martinelli, Sarah Cameron ’21 and Lauren Gillinov ’21 will lead this young squad. Joining them is head coach Danielle McNamara. McNamara served as coach from 2006 to 2014, winning four Ivy League titles in that span. She returned to the helm in 2016 and has put the Bulldogs back on track.

Joining her is new assistant coach Ellyse Hamlin. The Connecticut native graduated from Duke last spring after finishing an All-American career in which she led her team to the national semifinals twice.

“I’m incredibly excited about Ellyse, a Connecticut native, joining our program,” McNamara said to Yale Athletics. “In addition to being an extremely successful player at Duke you can tell that she’s a real student of the game and is ready to translate her knowledge and experience into coaching. Her ability to help develop and relate to our young women will help take our program to the next level.”

While Yale’s season has not yet started, three Elis participated in the Oracle Challenger Series event here in New Haven from Sept. 2–8. Dunleavy, Martinelli and Kung all played in this pro-level tournament, which featured professional players such as Lauren Davis and Nicole Gibbs.

The Bulldogs will open play on Sept. 20 in the Wolverine Invitational — held in Ann Arbor, Michigan —  and the Auburn Invitational — in Auburn, Alabama.

Akshar Agarwal | akshar.agarwal@yale.edu