Catherine Allen SC ’20 and Caroline Cox CM ’21 sit kitty-corner at a table outside Claremont McKenna College’s Bauer Center.
The two are part of the reigning national champion Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s tennis team, and are currently the top-ranked doubles team in the West region, according to the most recent Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll.
They haven’t lost a match in the SCIAC, are 23-1 overall since the start of the school year and won the ITA Cup doubles national title in the fall.
They seemed unfazed by their success.
“It’s a compliment to us that people want to beat us,” Cox said.
There is an undoubtable rapport between the two. Occasionally, they answered questions in unison. Despite focusing for much of their tennis career on singles matches, both said they enjoy the doubles game.
“It’s been a really great experience,” Allen said. “I definitely like playing for a team more than I did individually.”
They said their connection helps them on the court, and that the experience of playing with a friend, not just a teammate, has been fun and productive.
Both played doubles as juniors, but neither with anyone they had formed a bond with.
“It was always with a different partner,” Cox said. “I would go out on court having played with this person maybe one time before, so it was like going out there just to get more practice, but it was never like I trained for doubles or anything. Everyone cared way more about singles.”
This year, though, doubles has been an especially strong area for the Athenas, who are ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division III play.
In collegiate team tennis competitions, the teams face off in three doubles matches, followed by six singles matches, with each match counting for a point. Teams that can take a lead through doubles play have a significant advantage when it comes time for singles.
The Athenas have won at least two of the three possible doubles points in all but two of their matchups this spring — one of those times coming in their only loss of the season, at the hands of No. 1 Emory.
After defeating Pomona-Pitzer last week, the Athenas will begin postseason play this weekend, and enter the SCIAC Tournament as the top seed. If they want to complete a long postseason run and defend their NCAA title, they’ll surely need to rely on Cox’s and Allen’s doubles play to help them get there.
Luckily for the Athenas, the pair believes their relationship and play is only strengthening with time. As they became more accustomed to each other on the court, they said their friendship off the court has blossomed.
Nowadays, come game-time, they mostly know what to expect from one another.
“We kind of know each other’s moves,” Allen said.
The two communicate on a variety of levels.
“I think when we’re winning on the court, there’s a lot less conversing,” Allen said.
Still, Cox explained that talking becomes more important to them during tighter matches: “If we are struggling during a match, then that will lead to more communication on what we need to do differently and how to throw our opponents off their games a little bit.”
On court or not, it’s obvious the two are well in-sync at this point in the season. But it wasn’t always clear it would be that way.
“We weren’t really friends before,” Allen said.
The pair did play together last spring, but “not in the fall,” Cox quickly interjected.
“Honestly, though,” Allen continued, “this fall, as we started to play more together and we became more successful and winning the fall ITAs — we went to [Georgia] together — and that’s where we got to know each other.”
Cox and Allen, along with the rest of the Athenas, will try to ride the momentum the duo has built so far this season to carry them to a second consecutive national championship in May. But when asked about their postseason plans, both Cox and Allen were cautious.
Cox neutralized the question with a classic athlete cliché: “[We’re] really just taking it one match at a time.”