Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer annually boast some of the strongest teams in men’s and women’s tennis, and this year is no different. Heading into the Sixth Street rivalry Wednesday, all four teams were ranked in the top 15 in the country, with CMS’ men and women No. 1 and No. 2 in the NCAA, respectively.
As only one of the rivals typically qualifies for the NCAA Tournament each year, the stakes were as high as ever for Wednesday’s matches — and the Stags and Athenas executed dominant wins, with the men defeating P-P 8-1 and the women 7-2.
While it appeared as if the defending national champion Athenas (21-1, 7-0 SCIAC) would face a challenge from No. 4 P-P (14-4, 6-1 SCIAC), CMS coolly handled the Sagehens.
The Athenas said they are confident in their abilities, but careful not to underestimate their opponents.
“We aren’t entitled to the title or anything without the work we put in,” 2018 doubles national champion Catherine Allen SC ’20 said. “Last year, we were the underdog, and this year after winning the championship, we have to remember that being humble is super important. Complacency is the biggest enemy.”
Even though the CMS and P-P women are both ranked in the top five nationally, it’s certainly possible only one will advance to the NCAA Tournament. A select number of at-large bids are available for the tournament, and the only way to guarantee a bid is to win the regional tournament in May.
“It’s great having CMS in our conference because we get to play great matches, but it also kind of sucks because they might affect if we advance to the [national] tournament if we can’t win our conference, even though we are ranked fourth in the country right now,” Maria Lyven PO ’22 said.
While advancing to the national tournament might be difficult for the Sagehens, Lyven said having CMS close by makes the team more motivated to succeed.
“We know that if we advance it will be because we really earned it,” Lyven said. “We never stop fighting. We are not trying to die on the court, but we try to win in every possible circumstance.”
The No. 1 Stags (27-1, 7-0 SCIAC) have enjoyed a dominant season, and it was no different Wednesday in the win over P-P (10-13, 5-2 SCIAC). They swept the doubles matches, and only dropped one singles contest.
CMS was happy to extend its 14-game winning streak and nearly-undefeated season. But the Stags said they feel targets on their backs.
“We hold ourselves to high standards and every time we come out to play, we expect the other team to be at their best since they have nothing to lose, especially this year with us being the No. 1 team in the nation,” Nikolai Parodi CM ’20 said.
Playing well under pressure is nothing new for the Stags, however, as they have had a dominant tennis program for decades. Unbelievably, CMS hasn’t lost a SCIAC contest in 14 years, going 130-0 in that span.
Parodi said the match day pressure the Stags experience is not only something they have become accustomed to, but something they enjoy.
“The entire team loves to take on the pressure that comes with being the top team, which is why we are able to handle pressure situations really well,” Parodi said.
Parodi said much of the team’s success comes from coaching; head coach Paul Settles puts the Stags through intense training programs to prepare them for any match situation.
Unbelievably, CMS hasn’t lost a SCIAC contest in 14 years, going 130-0 in that span.
“Our coach is constantly putting us through adversity training by killing our legs with extra track workouts or pool workouts, and then has us practice on-court right after,” Parodi said. “I think that being able to handle adversity is one of the biggest factors to our success this year, as well as the fact that everyone on our team is always holding each other accountable, which allows for really intense practices.”
While the Stags have seemed to thrive in tense situations, the Sagehens have struggled under pressure to convert close matches into wins.
“So far this year, [the Stags] have just been able to pull off wins in close matches better than we have,” Jed Kronenberg PO ’21 said. “I think it’s important for us to stay aggressive and have a plan in high- pressure situations with big points and I hope we can turn it around.”
Despite CMS’ extended dominance, the Sagehens still think they have a shot to win if they face off in the SCIAC tournament or later in the postseason.
“They aren’t unbeatable, and we still have a chance at pulling off an upset,” Kronenberg said.