Lights, camera, aces: NCAA docuseries highlights Athenas tennis’ 5-4 Sixth Street victory over Sagehens

Audrey Yoon CM ’24 returns a shot during her clinching 7-6, 6-4 singles victory over Georgia Ryan PO ’23 to give the Athenas the 5-4 dual match win over the Sagehens. (Courtesy: CMS Athletics)

This weekend, there was an added element to the Sixth Street clash. As part of a docuseries titled “The Rivalries,” focusing on the lesser-known rivalries of collegiate athletics, P-P and CMS welcomed a film crew from the NCAA and LG to follow the journey to their matchup.

This year, for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) and Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) women’s tennis teams, the rivalry is as heated as ever. Nationally ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, the Athenas and Sagehens put on a show in their dual match Saturday afternoon at P-P’s Pauley Tennis Complex, but it was the Athenas who prevailed 5-4 in the weekend nailbiter. 

The show’s executive producer, Shane Bissett, was enamored with the uniqueness of the relationship between the two teams.

“In our research we discovered the Sixth Street rivalry,” Bissett said. “I don’t know if there’s anything else quite like it in … NCAA sports … [covering] it just felt like a no-brainer.”

Cameras were seen all throughout campus as they followed the student-athletes through practice, classes and ultimately the long-anticipated match on Saturday. Bissett explained he was hoping to highlight the players’ impressive academic skills in addition to their athletic prowess.

“Y’all are really smart,” Bissett said. “Seeing all of these super bright, hardworking young people made me feel really good about the future of humanity.”

As a student at Harvey Mudd College, Alisha Chulani HM ’25 was a particular focus of this effort by Bissett. Chulani was filmed doing everything from robotics to getting lunch with her brother, Neil Chulani PO ’26,  who plays for the P-P men’s tennis team. Overall, she found the filming experience a bit strange. 

“It’s kind of a weird experience,” Chulani said. “They came to a lot of our practices; they came to my classes … It was really funny to have them in my class because they’d be filming my experiments, and my team members in the class were all kind of confused.”

Much of the documentary’s focus on the Sagehen side was on one of their top players, Angie Zhou PO ’25. For Zhou, although the initial presence of the cameras was somewhat disconcerting, she felt the team quickly settled in.

“For a lot of people the documentary … [was] kind of a distraction, but it’s also a unique experience that we’ve never done before,” Zhou said. “I just felt like you couldn’t be yourself at the beginning, but after a while, I think especially during the competition, it was easier to forget about the documentary and focus on playing.”

If the production team was looking for drama on the courts, they certainly got it. Right out of the gate, the two teams found themselves in three very different doubles matches.

On Court 1 it was all CMS from start to finish with the team of Chulani and Nikolina Batoshvili CM ’24 running their opponents off the court in under an hour with a dominant 8-1 victory. They defeated the Sagehen duo of Marissa Markey PZ ’25 and Angie Zhou PO ’25, who were previously undefeated as a pair in conference play.

Meanwhile, Court 3 saw a neck and neck shootout that ultimately saw Lindsay Eisenman CM ’26 and Ella Brissett CM ’25 break away to claim the win for 8-5, putting the Athenas up 2-0.

For much of the match on Court 2 it appeared as if the P-P tandem of Nina Ye PO ’24 and Alex Coleman PO ’24 would mirror CMS’ rout on Court 1, but the Athenas would not make it easy for them. Needing to win just one game to take the match, the Sagehens dropped several games in a row to Katherine Wurster CM ’26 and captain Sena Selby CM ’24, who pushed it into a tiebreak. Nevertheless, the Hens persevered and cleanly won the tiebreak to bring the dual match’s score to 2-1.

The competitiveness of doubles play only continued into singles. The most commanding victory saw P-P’s top singles player, Zhou, return to Court 1 and achieve a measure of revenge against Chulani. After suffering doubles decimation just minutes prior, Zhou returned to the court to take down Chulani, one of CMS’s top players, in straight sets.

Zhou explained how Markey helped set her up for success in singles against such a tough opponent.

“After the match [Markey and I] were briefly able to talk about … what we can improve on, but we never really made it a place of negativity, which allowed me to [stay] positive going to singles,” Zhou said. “Knowing how important every singles match was [after] going down 1-2, I think we were all able to … focus on our current matches, which was really helpful for me.”

The Zhou and Chulani matchup was the only singles meeting to not feature either a tiebreak or go into a third set, highlighting an incredibly even-fought battle between the two squads that saw Sixth Street splitting singles 3-3. Athenas’ captain Audrey Yoon CM ’24 took the clinching victory for CMS, defeating Georgia Ryan PO ’23 7-6, 6-4. As a result, the Athenas narrowly won the dual match 5-4, taking the SCIAC regular season title in the process.

With all of the singles matches occurring simultaneously, the production process proved to be an interesting challenge for Bissett. He explained his approach to filming everything with just three cameras.

“I was literally walking around all the courts just trying to track what was going on,” Bissett said. “[We’re] doing our best to try to follow things as they’re happening in real time. There was a point when Audrey was about to [clinch the dual match] where all three cameras went to that court … So we had to sacrifice some of the middle game for those matches … That was the big fun puzzle for me to solve.”

In many ways the documentary process highlighted everything the players love about the rivalry. For Chulani, having an elite competitor right across the street provides constant motivation throughout the season. 

“Having such a good team next door just pushes us to be better because we know that every time we have to play them, it’s gonna be a tough battle. It just makes us train harder, makes us work harder and makes us compete better. And I think it’s good preparation for both of us in the postseason,” Chulani said.

Yoon shared a similar sentiment, speaking on the intensity and drive that the rivalry provides. 

“[The rivalry] adds a sense of intensity to our practices and our matches, because we know [P-P] is just across the street practicing and playing matches, just like us,” Yoon said.

Despite their fierce rivalry on the court, Yoon maintains that seeing her competitors in the classroom is no different from seeing any other classmates. 

“When people show up to watch us, they only see the competitive side of the rivalry,” Yoon said. “Off the court we’ll still see our opponents … we’re still friendly, we’ll still say hi. We’re all still students at the five colleges, so that’s always important to remember.”

The Sixth Street episode of “The Rivals,” which Bissett revealed is already in post-production, is set to release in mid-May on the NCAA Championship channel on LG TVs and on YouTube a week later.

Meanwhile, both teams will be competing in the SCIAC playoff semifinals this weekend. Both teams will be competing at home at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, with CMS facing Chapman and P-P going against Redlands. If both teams win, there will be a Sixth Street final on Sunday.

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