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April 20, 2010

Women's tennis wins UAA

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Head coach Marty Perry and his women’s tennis squad had tried everything to get ready for their matches against Emory. The result: four straight losses over the past 13 months.

This weekend, the Maroons finally solved the Emory puzzle, winning 5–3 in Sunday’s UAA Championship match to end the Eagles’ 22-year UAA title streak and bring home Chicago’s first conference championship.

“I think we’ve done the nervous thing, we’ve done the ‘get pumped up’ thing, and nothing worked,” Perry said. “We made a pact with ourselves to put it all on the line, to play hard, to put the blinders on and not really think about anything but our match, and that’s kind of what we did. We didn’t get excited, we didn’t get scared; it was just one of those days.”

After storming past Case and Carnegie on the first two days of the tournament, the Maroons toppled rival Emory—finally—to capture the first UAA Championship in the program’s history.

“I’m still having a hard time believing we did it,” second-year Jennifer Kung said. “I think a lot of us are still in shock.”

The match was over a year in the making: It was March 29, 2009, when Emory first defeated the newest incarnation of the Maroons’ squad. The two teams met three more times over the last year, each one ending in an Emory victory. Heading into Sunday’s UAA final, the Eagles held an 11–0 record against Chicago all-time and had never lost the UAA Championship in the conference’s 22-year history.

“They’re very talented, they bring in good players every year, they’re very well coached,” Perry said of Emory, “and they play with confidence. Rarely do you see them get tight because they’ve been there. They’ve won a lot of championships, and that’s what we’re trying to get to. We want to play with the confidence that they play with.

“It took a while to figure it out, but they’re a good team, and this is an exciting win for everyone.”

While both squads looked forward to Sunday’s potential meeting of the UAA’s pair of national powerhouses, the Chicago-Emory final was not a foregone conclusion—until the teams took the court Friday night.

The top seed in the tournament, Emory made quick work of NYU in the first round, winning 5–0 before beating Rochester 6–0. None of the Eagles’ singles matches went past the second set, and none of their doubles opponents won more than four games.

Second-seeded Chicago looked to keep stride with the Eagles. After besting Case 5–0 in the first round, the Maroons topped 10th-ranked Carnegie 6–0 to reach Sunday’s final.

“We had a slow start in doubles against Case—and that was to be expected, the first couple of minutes playing the UAA tournament—but we got some momentum,” Perry said. “Against Carnegie, we came out strong start to finish...We brought our A-game that day.”

The tournament, which took place at the Paramount Tennis Club, 40 minutes south of host Case because of rain and cold weather throughout the weekend, threw the squads a curveball Saturday night, switching the match’s format to play singles first due to scheduling conflicts with private users on the indoor courts.

Shuffled rosters for both Emory and Chicago meant some new matchups from the last time out, when Emory won 6–3. The Eagles’ Zahra Dawson played first singles, switching with defending NCAA champion Lorne McManigle, while the fourth and fifth players swapped, as well. Chicago shuffled the bottom five spots of its singles lineup, meaning that only one of the singles matches was a repeat of February’s meeting.

The Maroons took control of the match early, winning the first set in each of the top five singles matches. That advantage set up straight-set wins at first through fourth singles to hand Chicago a 4–2 lead heading into doubles competition. Playing against a large deficit, however, the Eagles kept the Maroons sweating by taking early leads in all three doubles matches.

“There was a point where everybody was like, ‘They [the Eagles] could actually come back,’” Kung said.

The Maroons did more than breath a sigh of relief when second-years Carmen Vaca Guzman and Aswini Krishnan clinched the title by winning 8–6 at third doubles.

“We just held our breath and waited,” Kung said of the moments immediately after the match had finished. “Then I think all of us just started screaming and jumping. I think it took longer for [Vaca Guzman and Krishnan] to realize that they clinched...and then they saw everyone else rushing onto the court.”

The win for the Maroons, which took place on the same weekend as second-ranked Williams upset top-ranked Amherst, confirms the squad’s status as a top contender in the NCAA tournament May 28 to 30 in VA.

“We’re going to be somewhere in the top three,” Perry said. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re ready for Regionals. [We have to] take it one step at a time, like we’ve been doing all year, and not worry about Virginia yet.”

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