Often lost amid the glamour of the tennis individual—the face of a Roger Federer, a Serena Williams, or a Rafael Nadal, is the art of the doubles team. Tennis is often billed as a highly individualistic sport, but college tennis players across the country know a different reality. Success often hinges on the ability of these single athletes to constrain their respective individual game to make better doubles teams.
In collegiate tennis scoring, there are only three points to be had, but there are six points in singles play. The difference between a 2-1 lead and a 1-2 deficit is simply not something that can be pushed aside.
After the SCIAC championships, held at Pomona College last weekend, the Sagehens know this reality all too well. Pomona-Pitzer cruised to the finals with easy 6-0 and 9-0 victories against Caltech and Occidental, only to fall 5-4 against a competitive Redlands squad.
The loss added another chapter to the recent rivalry between the two teams, which has played out on a national stage. Prior to the tournament, the Sagehens were ranked seventh nationally and first in the Western region (according to the ITA Division III rankings), with a 15-3 record overall (7-0 SCIACS), and the Bulldogs stood at No. 11 nationally and second in the Western region.
The Sagehens capped off a perfect regular-season record in SCIAC by beating Redlands 7-2, just six days prior to the SCIAC final. Despite this earlier victory, P-P knew that they had their work cut out for them in the tournament final. Last season, the Sagehens came into the SCIAC tournament having lost to Redlands 7-2 in the regular season, only to turn it around and beat the very same team in the title game 5-4. The Redlands lineup, which is highly comparable to that of P-P in most areas (boasting players with only slightly lower regional rankings), came in prepared to make a similar turnaround, and they did not leave disappointed.
The difference came down to doubles.
While the Sagehens cleanly swept the doubles matches in their Apr. 12 match, this time they faced a Redlands team determined to enter the singles round with at least a point. They earned two. Regionally top-ranked Siobhan Finicane PO ’10 and Olivia Muesse PO ’10 won their match 8-6, but Becca Lange PO ’09 and Kasyn Stevenson PO ’09 lost a 5-2 lead to fall 8-5, and Lindsay Clough PO ’09 and Nicole Holsted PO ’12 lost 8-5.
“Having both my doubles match and three doubles match lose close matches that we won the previous time made a big difference,” noted Lange.
“It gives a different feel to the match when we feel that we have to battle back from being down in doubles,” added assistant coach Brittany Biebl.
Despite falling behind 2-1, the Sagehens quickly evened the score after Finicane, the nations top-ranked player, quickly defeated her opponent 6-1, 6-0.
With the score again tied, the match turned into a best-of-five series, in which the first team to three wins would get the victory. Last contest against Redlands, P-P managed to take three of the five victories from slots two through six, but the matches were even enough that it could go either way.
And without the mental cushion of an extra doubles victory, the team would need to be all the more sharp.
Lange’s match at No. 2 with Paige Sumida looked to be a battle, especially after her hard-fought 5-7, 7-6 (7), 4-10 loss in their last meeting. This time, however, the three-time All-American Lange couldn’t put together a set victory, and lost 6-2, 6-4.
Muesse, victorious in the last match at No. 3, started things off strong with a 6-3 first set victory, however she lost the last two 3-6, 4-6. Meanwhile, freshman Nicole Holsted put together an impressive array of sets at No. 4, to again beat Sara Yoshinaga, this time in straight sets 7-5, 6-3.
In the definitive moment of the match, Bulldogs player Whitney Waters moved up from No. 6 to No. 5 singles to clash with Clough, who has been enjoying a breakout year. Waters took the first set in a tiebreaker 6-7 (3), and Clough couldn’t recover in the second one, dropping it 3-6.
At this point, the Bulldogs had clinched the victory in the championship with five points, however the Sagehens exhibited their quality and the determination of a champion at No. 6 singles, which will aid them going forward into the playoffs.
Paige Wolstencroft PO ‘12 was the last player on the courts, and after losing the first set 6-1, the day did not look to go her way. Wolstencroft, however, would not be put away and recovered to win the last two sets 6-2, 6-3 to bring the final score to 5-4.
“Paige Wolstencroft, facing a different opponent this time, came up stronger in the third set to beat out her opponent’s second set surge” said Biebl. “She stayed focused and aggressive to win against her extremely quick and steady opponent.”
“The person that stands out in this match is Paige, with a great turn around,” said Muesse. “She was the last person on and was determined to hang in there.”
The Sagehens will look to harness this determination as they approach the post-season. Although they technically tied with the Bulldogs atop the SCIAC standings with twin 9-1 records, it is only the tournament victor that earns an automatic bid to the regionals. As the seventh-ranked team in the country and top in the region, however, Pomona-Pitzer expects to earn an at-large bid to the competition. The Sagehens end the regular season with a 17-4 record (9-1 SCIAC).
If all plays out according to the rankings, the Sagehens have a very good chance at again meeting Redlands for a chance at the regional championship.
For a Sagehen team that is looking to compete on the national level, the loss can almost be looked upon as a positive. The experience will aid them going forward, especially should they meet at regionals.
“I think it’s good to know we can lose because now we know how hard we have to work and how much we have to focus between now and Regionals,” said Lange.
And if they meet again? The rivalry will only get more intense.
“We will be gunning for them next time we get out there… only this next match matters since the winners advance to nationals.”
Added Biebl, “We’ll spend the next couple of weeks practicing, with some of our lineup competing at the Ojai tournament this weekend, and the team will be excited to go up against them again!”