The Pomona-Pitzer women’s tennis team (7-5, 1-0 SCIAC) struggled against two of the nation’s top teams over the weekend, losing 8-1 to No. 2 Williams College (9-0) and 7-2 to No. 5 Middlebury College (7-1).
Williams has opened the season on a tear, enjoying a 9-0 start and out-scoring its opponents by a combined score of 67-14. The match marked a tough challenge for the Sagehens, who were coming off a 9-0 victory over conference foe California Lutheran University (3-8, 0-1 SCIAC). However, coach Mike Morgan felt his team was prepared.
“Because this team has such a great growth mindset, it actually was not [difficult to prepare]. They did a great job continuing to improve in our match at Cal Lutheran,” Morgan said.
P-P picked up a point early on with a win at No. 1 doubles, thanks to Maryann Zhao PO ’18 and Arianna Chen’s PO ’19 hard-fought 8-6 victory. However, they lost the other two doubles matches 8-4 and 8-5.
“It was our first match together as a new doubles team so it was incredibly rewarding to get the win against Williams,” Zhao said. “We played aggressively, took chances when it counted, and it paid off in the big moments.”
The Ephs’ momentum carried over to singles, where they swept the Sagehens 6-0. However, P-P did not go down without a fight, taking three of the matches to a decisive third set.
At No. 3, Summer Garrison PZ ’19 overcame a 6-0 defeat in the first set with a 6-2 victory in the second, before falling 6-3 in the final frame. At No. 4, Shivani Doraiswami PO ’18 split her first two sets, each decided by a score of 6-3, before losing 6-4.
The most dramatic match of the day came at No. 2 singles, where Zhao took her opponent to a third-set tiebreaker. Facing a member of the doubles team she’d defeated earlier in the day, Zhao lost the first set 6-4 before winning the second 7-5 to set up the thrilling finish. However, she couldn’t hold on, falling 10-6 in the third set.
“Third set tie-breakers are always tough because they go so fast and anything can happen,” Zhao said. “I don’t let myself be bothered if the other girl hits an amazing winner, but I also adopt the mindset that I refuse to miss in this moment.”
Saturday, the Sagehens faced another challenge in Middlebury. Like Williams, the Panthers began the season in dominant fashion, winning their first six matches by a combined score of 49-5. However, the day before their meeting with P-P, they lost 7-2 to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (17-2, 3-0 SCIAC), so the Sagehens were looking to add to the Panthers’ streak of west coast losses.
The Sagehens gained another early doubles win, this time at No. 2, as Doraiswami and Emily Chen PO ’18 won their match 8-5. However, the Ephs recovered, winning at No. 1 and No. 3 by scores of 8-5 and 8-4, respectively.
In singles, Middlebury won five of the matches, all of them coming in straight sets. Zhao was able to snag P-P’s sole singles victory, winning both sets 6-4 to cap off a successful weekend for her individually.
“A lot of my success has come from just being able to track balls well and make the matches really physical. Another thing is that I’m always ready to adjust my strategy on the fly during the match, which is really helpful,” Zhao said.
Despite the lopsided defeats, Morgan said there’s value in facing such talented teams.
“It is such an incredible opportunity to play the best of the best in Division III,” Morgan said. “It is a perfect barometer to let us see exactly where our strengths are and what projects we need to improve heading towards the late and post-season.”
Looking ahead to the month of April, six of the Sagehens’ eight matches are against SCIAC teams. These include Chapman (18-6, 2-1 SCIAC), currently on a seven match win-streak, and CMS, ranked No. 3 in the nation. Entering this critical stretch, the Sagehens hope to learn from their past mistakes.
“We have a few adjustments tactically to add to our games for singles and doubles for the late season to give us the chance to thrive in league and post-season play,” Morgan said. “This team is so dedicated to working hard that I really don’t see it being a huge challenge.”
The Sagehens next take the court in Scholl Canyon April 6 against Occidental (5-6, 1-3 SCIAC).