Athena tennis stays positive, despite COVID-19’s denial of another potential NCAA 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)

A juggernaut over the past decade, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s tennis team was poised to make some noise on the national stage once again, but as was the case for so many other teams, COVID-19 put an end to those aspirations.

The Athenas took home an NCAA title in 2018, won the SCIAC each of the last eight seasons and posted a flawless 14-0 record before this spring season’s abrupt end — another dominant season was in the works — making such a premature ending heartbreaking, especially for the seniors.

“I was devastated, but I am happy that we were able to make a senior day out of our last match,” Anastasia Bryan-Ajania SC ’20 said. “It was nice to at least be able to celebrate the seniors and to have everyone together.”

Despite her disappointment in missing out on most of her final season as an Athena, Bryan-Ajania, who holds a career record of 65-14 in all matches, took solace in the fact that CMS has nothing left to prove.

“We had a lot of potential to make it to nationals this year,” she said. “It was definitely devastating, but we have already won everything we have dreamed of winning. They will always be my team, and I will always be there to support them.”

Sydney Lee CM ’22 said the entire team felt the heartbreak. 

“I was crushed by it, but I was also upset because it was the seniors’ last season. We had a lot of seniors on our team, and our team is very close,” she said. “I was upset that we couldn’t keep playing, but I felt more for them.”

Despite the undesirable circumstances, Athena tennis is trying to make the most of the situation by finding ways to stay connected and fit during quarantine. 

“We have been communicating through group chats, and we have also been hosting Zoom calls,” said Lee. “Our team is scattered geographically, and we are all in different time zones, but we have been trying to stay in contact.”

“We even play Kahoot together,” Bryan-Ajania added.

To keep fit and prepare for next season, the Athenas have regularly been doing home workouts with guidance from CMS athletic trainer Bri DiPhilippo.

“She has been giving us workouts to do at home, even if we don’t have access to a gym or equipment,” Lee said. “We use textbooks as weights, for example.”

The team is also trying to focus on the positives. Players noted that the cancellation of all spring athletics may have one positive effect — teams will be hungrier than ever to win next season after being deprived of competition for at least a year.

“It will make everyone much more driven and determined to do better the following year, and I think that everyone will excel and reach their full potential,” Bryan-Ajania said. “I’m sure the rest of the Claremont Consortium will do the same, as we are all motivated individuals.”

Bryan-Ajania also gave advice to her returning teammates, who will have a go at another national title whenever collegiate sports are back in business.

“You are going to have another season with your team and another shot. Recognizing how incredible an opportunity that is and sitting with that feeling for a second will help you understand how lucky you are to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard,” Bryan-Ajania said.

Despite the way her college career ended, she said she will always be immensely grateful for her experience with her team. 

“The most incredible moment was winning the NCAA National Championships in 2018 and doing it on our home court,” she said. “It’s a moment like that you remember for the rest of your life, which makes everything worth it.”

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