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May 18, 2010

Women's tennis headed to NCAA elite eight after regional victory

And then there were eight.

The women’s tennis team flexed its muscles with a pair of 5–0 wins at Stagg this weekend, knocking off Grove City and Wash U to advance to the National Tournament next week. Chicago is one of eight teams left in contention for the NCAA title, as the Maroons will make their second quarterfinal appearance in as many seasons.

“We haven’t had any matches at all since UAAs [on April 18], and so it was kind of rough getting back into things and being competitive all of the sudden,” second-year Jennifer Kung said. “[But] I think our team was pretty comfortable we’d get through this weekend and make it to the quarterfinals.”

After getting a bye in the first round, third-ranked Chicago (22–3) shook off the rust quickly against Grove City (12–3) Friday, closing out the win in just over two hours to advance to the regional championship. The Maroons picked up where they left off the next afternoon against 21st-ranked Wash U (14–6), taking three solid doubles wins to set the tone for another 5–0 victory.

“I think we all just wanted to come out with the same mind-set as we always do: Focus on winning matches and getting the five we need,” Kung said.

This weekend’s matches were two of the most significant matches in Stagg Field tennis history, as the Maroons had never hosted the NCAA tournament before. First-year Linden Li, the only player in the lineup who wasn’t with the team for last year’s NCAA run, said she enjoyed the more formal atmosphere of tournament play—and also the benefits of playing in front of a home crowd.

“We actually had spectators this time,” Li said with a laugh.

Chicago’s doubles lineup put on a show for the partial audience, winning all six matches in strong fashion. Second-years Aswini Krishnan and Carmen VacaGuzman won 8–0 against the Wolverines and 8–1 against the Bears at the third spot, running their win streak to eight, while second-year Kendra Higgins and third-year Chrissy Hu have now won 14 straight. Li and Kung also came out strong in the second spot with a pair of 8–2 victories.

In singles play, Hu gave up just two games all weekend and won both of her matches in straight sets. Higgins also won 6–0, 6–0 against Grove City to extend her win streak to 22 matches, while Li’s win against Wash U was her 10th consecutive victory.

The weekend was déjà vu from a season ago, when Chicago swept through regionals to advance to the quarterfinals, but the little-older, little-wiser Maroons came out of Saturday’s win with a clearer objective in mind than they had last season.

“This is like a little step,” Li said, “one more step closer to the National Championship.”

While a loss this weekend would have meant the end of Chicago’s season, the Maroons tried to keep a level head in considering the magnitude of their wins.

“It was satisfying, but we kind of expected it, like we knew what we were going to do,” Li said. “We enjoyed the victories, but it wasn’t that big. Winning UAAs was huge—we were like crying after that. Now we can take a breath and then we can get back.”

Chicago will practice this week in preparation for next week’s trip to Fredericksburg, VA, where they’ll play seventh-ranked Pomona-Pitzer next Tuesday. While the team celebrated at Summer Breeze Saturday afternoon, Li was clear about the team’s plan for this week.

“We are not going to let up.”

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