No. 2 Athena tennis rolling again; team gearing up for NCAA repeat

Crystal Juan SC ’22 high-fives her doubles partner Georgia Tuckerman CM ’22 during the Athenas’ 9-0 win over Whittier on April 6. (Camila Mejia • The Student Life)

The reigning Division III national champion Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s tennis team (18-1, 4-0 SCIAC) is rolling again this season, ranked No. 2 in the country two weeks before beginning postseason play with the SCIAC Tournament.

The Athenas are currently riding an 11-match win streak, and haven’t fallen since March 3 against No. 1 Emory, their only loss of the year. CMS defeated the Eagles in the national title match last season.

The team’s dominance this season has been a consequence of numerous strong individual efforts. On April 1, Caroline Cox CM ’21 became the fourth Athena named SCIAC Athlete of the Week this season. Sarah Bahsoun CM ’22 earned the honor the previous week, Rebecca Berger CM ’21 received it on opening weekend and team captain Catherine Allen SC ’20 captured the award in early March after the ITA Indoor National Tournament.

Allen and Cox are currently the No. 1 doubles team in the nation. The duo won the ITA Cup in the fall despite Allen playing with one hand, as she recovered from a wrist surgery.

However, regardless of last season’s accomplishments and its success this season, the team does not take a single game for granted, Cox said.

Jessie Cruz CM ’19 serves as her doubles partner Juliette Martin HM ’20 prepares for action in the Athenas’ 9-0 win over Whittier on April 6. (Camila Mejia • The Student Life)

“The national championship win helped build confidence as far as knowing we are capable of competing at the top level, but at the same time we realize this is a new season,” she said. “We are using some of the lessons we learned last year and building off them, but we definitely want to stay humble, keep our heads down, and keep working hard. Every other team is different this year too.”

Crystal Juan SC ’22 agreed that CMS should focus on each upcoming match, rather than dwell on the previous year. She said the team is fully focused on winning the title again this season.

“There is a drive to work hard, win and repeat what we did, since the upperclassmen carry that experience with them,” Juan said. “We want to be ambitious coming into the team to achieve that again, but it’s also more in the back of our minds as a long term goal.”

The Athenas’ motivation to take on the season game-by-game, combined with their national championship experience, has helped them put their loss against Emory into perspective.

 

“We’ll probably play them again. It’s a matter of learning and recognizing if you win a lot, you don’t get that extra push,” Juan said. “With a loss against a good team, you know what you need to work on for the upcoming months.”

CMS also lost in the regular season to Emory last year before later defeating the Eagles for the NCAA title.

“After the loss, we kind of knew what we were up against,” Cox said. “It was overall a good experience, especially for our freshmen to see what the top competition looks like.”

Cox said that playing non-conference games is a different challenge than conference games for the Athenas, considering how many of the country’s top teams are on the East Coast.

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“When we play non-conference matches against other teams, we don’t really know how well they are doing in their own conference, so it’s a real test,” Cox said. “Playing in SoCal, knowing surrounding teams, and knowing who’s playing one another allows us to know what the competition is, and for non-SCIAC matches, we don’t really know who they’re competing against and how to compare it. It’s a matter of being ready for every single match.”

CMS will face No. 5 Pomona-Pitzer, its most significant regional rival, at the end of the month for its final regular season match. It will likely be the first of several Sixth Street matchups as the season winds down, with possible matches in the SCIAC and NCAA Tournaments looming.

Cox said that no matter what happens to CMS down the stretch, the Athenas are confident entering the postseason.

“It’s really fun playing with this group of ladies since every single player is motivated and dedicated to pushing themselves and one another,” she said. “Everyone is committed to something we all share a passion for.”

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