Athena tennis poised for ninth straight SCIAC title

Seven women stand in a line watching a match.
Catherine Allen SC ’20 smiles while her team watches the remaining matches of the Athenas’ 9-0 win over Whittier April 6, 2019. (Camila Mejia • The Student Life)

Catherine Allen SC ’20 knows what it’s like to be a national champion.

The tennis star was part of the 2018 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team that toppled Emory, a miraculous 5-4 comeback that earned the first NCAA championship in program history.

She also knows what it’s like to lose in heartbreaking fashion. Last year, the Athenas were on the other end of a 5-4 decision, falling in the national championship match to Wesleyan.

With both dramatic endings in mind, Allen and the rest of the Athenas (6-0, 2-0 SCIAC) are gearing up for a season that they hope will end with another national title.

Last year, “we definitely took a step back, it wasn’t the result that we wanted, but we accomplished a lot that season and I was very proud of how our entire team contributed and played for one another,” Allen said. “So [we’re] just recognizing that from the start and kind of looking at what we can fix from last year and what we can still uphold as a team.”

Allen said the team is still figuring out optimal partnerships for doubles and fine-tuning its play, though opponents wouldn’t know that based on CMS’ impressive start.

Allen and Caroline Cox CM ’21, the dynamic doubles duo who told TSL last year that they “know each other’s moves,” are back after winning the 2019 NCAA doubles championship — a separate competition from the team title.

The duo defeated teammates Nicole Tan CM ’20 and Sarah Bahsoun CM ’22 for the prize last spring, meaning CMS returns the two top doubles teams in the country.

The Athenas also have a new weapon in rookie Justine Leong CM ’23, a star on the Hong Kong tennis circuit before coming to CMS. Leong impressed in fall ITA competition and will be a key piece in the Athenas’ championship bid. 

“She’s such a talented player and will contribute a lot to this team,” Allen said. “At the same time, we really focus on the team dynamic and we’re playing for one another. We’re really emphasizing that although you’re on the court by yourself, it’s no longer an individual sport, it’s a team sport.”

Allen said that team mentality is what drives her and her fellow players. Before college, she said, the sport’s emphasis is much more individual.

“I never was passionate about tennis until I got to college,” she said. “I play better when I’m playing for the team, and I know a lot of other players feel that way too.”

The Athenas have won the last eight SCIAC championships, including all five since head coach David Schwarz took over the program. Allen said Schwarz is both a “positive role model” as a coach and a “mentor off the court.”

“A big thing about him is his belief in our abilities and talents,” she said. “Not necessarily changing our game, but developing it and allowing us to play within our own framework.”

 

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