With the regular-season title on the line, Pomona-Pitzer traveled to Redlands on Sunday, Apr. 12 to close out SCIAC play. Both teams were a flawless 6-0 in league, and both teams had destroyed their opposition, winning each of these matches 9-0.
Even better, P-P and Redlands would meet as the first and second-ranked teams in the Western Region, boasting records of 14-3 and 13-5 respectively after playing brutal non-conference schedules. Nationally, the Sagehens stand as the seventh-best team overall, with the Bulldogs four slots lower at eleventh.
The Sagehens also boast the first and 36th-best singles players in the nation (Siobhan Finicane PO ’10 and Rebecca Lange PO ’09), and the third-ranked doubles team (Finicane and Olivia Muesse PO ’10). The Bulldogs, meanwhile, countered with the 26th and 49th-ranked singles players (Rachel Miller and Paige Sumida) at the top of their singles roster.
On Sunday, Apr. 12, one of the teams would have to lose and finish the regular season second in SCIAC. In the end, the two SCIAC titans both did something they hadn’t done all year: both lost for the first time in league play.
But for P-P, the loss was minimal—it was only two individual matches.
The Sagehens asserted their strength going into the SCIAC tournament by winning the match in convincing fashion, with a 7-2 victory. Redlands managed to grab just two singles victories, at the number two and six slots, handing P-P their first two league single point losses of the year, but undoubtedly the Sagehens found little to complain about.
With the victory, the Sagehens grabbed the regular season SCIAC title, and the top seed going into the postseason tournament. P-P bettered their record to 15-3 overall and 7-0 in SCIAC. They will open up the tournament today at 9:30 a.m. at home against Cal Tech.
The match began with a bit of intrigue, as regionally top-ranked Finicane and Muesse faced second-ranked Sumida and Waters. Finicane and Muesse immediately showed why they are also one of the top-ranked tandems in the nation, as they easily dispatched their opponents, 8-2. Lange and Kasyn Stevenson PO ’09 followed suit, and pulled out a harder fought set 9-7. It was the number-three doubles match, however, that would set the tone for the day.
Lindsay Clough ’09 and Nicole Holsted PO ‘12 formed the final Sagehen doubles team, and they were challenged throughout the set. After the match came to an 8-8 tie, Clogh and Holsted upped their play and gritted out a 9-8 (5) victory.
After the switch to singles, Finicane continued her streak of dominance with a convincing 6-3, 6-0 win. The nations top-ranked singles player only got better as the match went on.
The most competitive matchup of the day occurred at No. 2 singles, between Lange and Sumida, undoubtedly some of D-III’s best two-singles players. Lange’s trademark consistency and grit showed through, as she remained close in every set, but after forcing a tiebreaking third, the senior fell 7-5, 6-7 (7), 10-4, and will no doubt be looking forward to a potential rematch.
Muesse, Holsted, and Clough all won their matches at numbers three, four, and five singles, while Paige Wolstencroft PO ‘12 lost 7-5, 6-4. The final overall tally ended 7-2 in favor of P-P.
If their regular season streak of domination is any indicator, the Sagehens and the Bulldogs can expect to see each other again in more finals to come. With both teams expecting bids to the Western region tournament, the SCIAC finals might not be the last time they meet.
The competitive rivalry against Redlands isn’t new to this year.
Last season, Redlands pulled out a 7-2 victory in the regular season match with P-P, before the latter stormed back in the conference tournament to win convincingly 8-1. In this case, the disparity of the results shows just how competitive the teams are talent wise: they could either win 8-1 or lose 1-8.
The rivalry at the top of the SCIAC is just that good.
The day prior to the Redlands match, on Saturday, Apr. 11, P-P faced rival CMS hoping to gain momentum for their Sunday showdown. The Sagehens managed to keep their perfect streak alive, and they took care of business, winning 9-0 to set up a showdown of the undefeated.
The lineup that the Sagehens used against Redlands was one that has evolved throughout the year. P-P, which has had impressive recruiting successes over the past few years, has managed to grab another group of standout freshman and use them to great sucess.
“We knew about Nicole [Holsted PO ‘12], and we saw her potential, especially with her experience in match play as a junior player,” said Assistant Coach Brittany Biebl. “Paige [Wolstencroft] PO ’12, came in having not played a lot of tournaments, but she blew us away in the fall and beat the CMS number one.”
The Sagehen depth has been one of its largest assets this year.
“Obviously it is nice having one of the best players in the country [in Finicane] but then you also have Becca [Lange],” said Biebl. “Becca is a three-year all-American and could be number one on most teams in the country. If Siobhan gets hurt, you know that you will have somebody that can step in and be number one.”
The talent extends down the lineup, giving the Sagehens a significant advantage over their opponents.
“Lindsay [Clough] has had a beyond outstanding year, and she has beaten ranked players,” continued Biebl. “She is completely in control of matches and almost never has to play defense. She is very smart, very steady, and very cool headed.”
At the end of the season, the singles lineup currently reads: Finicane, Lange, Muesse, Holsted, Clough, Wolstencraft.
“We have such an advantage throughout the lineup, because you have Nicole [Holsted] and Paige [Wolstencroft] hitting a big, hard ball at four and six, which puts them on the offensive,” Biebl noted.
The results (15-3 overall, 7-0 in league) speak for themselves and suggest that the Sagehens are prepared to compete with any team in the country.
In order to put themselves to that task, however, they are staying focused on becoming SCIAC tournament champions once again. After that, their potential is unlimited.
“The people on the team and at these schools are driven and self-motivated and willing to work hard,” Biebl said. “We are a very close team and we have a lot of personalities. We work hard, but we like to have fun.”
And with the future for this P-P team so exciting and bright, why not let the champions have a little fun?