Women’s Tennis Shows No Signs of Slowing

Kirby Livingston and Molly Bloom

The women’s tennis squad is nearly finished with its best regular season since 2007. The team’s 16–5 overall record is highlighted by an ongoing 11-game winning streak, which continued on Tuesday in an 8–1 win against conference rival Kenyon College. But the streak’s high point came two days earlier, when the Yeowomen stunned the ten-time reigning North Coast Athletic Conference champions from Denison University, ranked No. 26 in the nation, by a margin of 3–6.

“[Denison] has consistently proven to have some of the top competitors, not only in our conference, but in our region,” said junior Preeya Shah, who has won her last 13 matches in singles play. “That’s why coming off the court with a convincing victory … was so monumental. It speaks volumes about our progression over the last three years.”

Senior Ariel Lewis, who is on a 13-match winning streak of her own at No. 1 singles, won 6–3, 6–0 over Denison’s No. 1 and won at No. 2 doubles with senior partner Carolyn Ball.

“Ariel and Carolyn have really stepped up as a doubles team,” said fellow senior Finley Gates. “They pulled out a close battle against Denison to put us ahead 1–2 going into singles.”

Along with Lewis and Shah, Gates and Ball pulled out wins in singles play. Ball, who was chosen as the NCAC Player of the Week, clinched the win against Denison with her 7–6 (7–3), 6–3 win at No. 6.

The current stretch of wins, which has lasted for over a month, followed a four-game slide earlier in the season. The crucial game of that stretch came on March 2 against Case Western Reserve University, a 4–5 loss, which proved to be a catalyst for the rest of their season.

“After we played Case, our coach [Constantine Ananiadis] told us that the rest of our schedule would be tough but winnable,” said Lewis. “That motivated us going into the second half of the season.”

The team appears to have taken this motivation and turned it into momentum, dominating teams during their streak and winning eight of 11 games by scores of 8–1 or 9–0.

Lewis said, “I don?t ever go out expecting us to dominate, but every player is on her game so the result is a dominant finish. We take everyone seriously and that enables us to pull out close matches that we would have lost in the past.”

During those close games, the Yeowomen looked to their upperclassmen. The Yeowomen are led by five seniors and a junior, said Lewis, so they know how to play when the stakes are high. But they have also benefited from some good fortune with regards to injury this season.

“We’ve managed to stay relatively healthy, which has not always been the case in the past,” said Lewis.

As a result, the Yeowomen have a deeper and more talented roster than it has had in years, ramping up practice and, in turn, yielding vastly improved results come game day.

“Our practices are great. Our doubles teams are relatively close in level, so we can all play each other and give each other a good match,” said Lewis. “It helps to practice against players who are as good or better than the competition, and this is the deepest we’ve been since I’ve been here.”

But sophomore Brenna Sheldon cites the team dynamic and outstanding support as the main reason for their recent success. “It?s amazing to be part of a successful team in an individual sport,” she said. “We are a deep team, and we support each other and play hard, and that’s why we’ve had an awesome season!”

“Playing for each other has taken precedence over playing for ourselves,” added Shah. “Getting a few key wins under our belt gave us confidence, but seeing each teammate override any injury or adversity to give their 100 percent at every single match, at every single practice — that is what fueled the fire. Everyone is on the same page this year, and I believe we’re going to continue pushing boundaries to see how far we can get.”

The Yeowomen play their next conference game and regular season finale at Allegheny College on Saturday, April 21, and then compete in the NCAC tournament at Kenyon College the following weekend.