Bulldogs Top No. 43 William & Mary 4-2
DURHAM, N.C. – In a season full of significant accomplishments, the No. 30 Yale women's tennis team added the biggest one of all on Saturday morning at Duke's Ambler Stadium. With a 4-2 win over No. 43 William & Mary, the Bulldogs picked up the first NCAA Tournament win in school history.
"It was really special," head coach Danielle McNamara said of the win. "This is something that we've been working for for quite some time. To just see it happen, and see the reaction of all the players and their excitement, it's just priceless. It's why you do what you do. I couldn't be happier for our players to experience that, because they really deserve it."
Saturday was the sort of day that was years in the making for Yale (22-4, 6-1 Ivy League). The Bulldogs made their first team appearance in the NCAA Tournament three years ago, when current seniors Lindsay Clark, Silia DeFilippis and Stevi Petrelli were freshmen. Back then, the Bulldogs were sent to play at Georgia, ranked No. 2 in the country at the time, and fell 4-0.
Petrelli, now Yale's captain, remembered what it was like to make the tournament three years earlier with the automatic berth from winning the Ivy League title.
"Freshman year, we were really just happy to be there and get the berth from the Ivy [title] win," Petrelli said. "This year, to win a round and be the No. 2 seed at our regional site was awesome. Every year, we want to get our program moving in the right direction. To get this step forward -- to get a round in the NCAAs, make history for the Yale women's tennis program -- we're definitely moving in the right direction for the years to come."
The 2008 NCAA appearance was on the heels of an 11-8 regular season. This time around, the Bulldogs entered the tournament 21-4 and on a roll, having won 17 of their last 19 matches. In addition to winning their sixth Ivy League championship, earlier in the season they had won their third straight ECAC Indoor Team Championship and achieved a national ranking of No. 23, the best ITA ranking in school history. The 1978 team was No. 18 in the Women's Large-College Tennis Coaches' Poll.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs were facing a William & Mary team they had beaten 5-2 just a year earlier in the regular season. After a half-hour delay to dry the courts following a torrential overnight storm, the match got underway with a serve from junior Vicky Brook, on the No. 2 doubles team with sophomore Elizabeth Epstein, just before 9:40 a.m.
Within 10 minutes the Bulldogs had their first break -- from the team of Clark and freshman Annie Sullivan at No. 1. Those two were up against the No. 43 doubles team in the country, Anik Cepeda and Hope Johnson.
Yale's top two doubles teams both jumped out to big leads, with Brook and Epstein going up 5-0 and Clark and Sullivan winning six of the first seven. Brook held serve to finish off an 8-1 win at No. 2 that gave Yale its first doubles win. At that point the No. 3 doubles match, featuring freshmen Blair Seideman and Kim Szokol, was tied 4-4, but Yale was up 6-3 at No. 1. The No. 1s held serve until a break by Sullivan finished off an 8-4 win for the Bulldogs that clinched the doubles point, Yale's first point in NCAA team play. Yale has won the doubles point in 10 of its last 11 matches.
Brook claimed a 6-0 win over Johnson in the first set at No. 2 for Yale's first singles victory, but right after that the Tribe's Katie Kargl won the first set 6-1 at No. 6. The sun made a brief appearance on the otherwise cloudy and muggy day just as Kent held serve to win her first set, 6-4, at No. 4.
Epstein, playing No. 1 for just the second time this season, gutted out a 7-6 (7-4) tiebreaker win in the first set as the Bulldogs gradually began taking control in singles. Brook broke Johnson to win her second set 6-3, taking that match to put Yale up 2-0.
"I felt confident going into the singles after the doubles, especially how we won at No. 1 and No. 2 [doubles] so convincingly," said McNamara. "But I knew William & Mary would definitely put up a fight. I thought that there were some really key first sets that we won in singles that definitely set the tone for the rest of the match -- Steph winning a close first set, Elizabeth winning a tiebreaker, and then Annie winning another close one. I started to feel even more confident at that point."
At No. 3 the Tribe's Jeltje Loomans was able to snap Seideman's 10-match win streak, 6-2, 6-3. While Johnson finished off a straight-set win over Petrelli at No. 6 to tie the score 2-2, the Bulldogs remained in control of the three remaining matches: Epstein at No. 1, Kent at No. 4 and Sullivan at No. 5. Each Bulldog had won the first set, and it soon became clear that Kent and Sullivan were closing in on second-set wins that would clinch the match for Yale. Sullivan put the Bulldogs up 3-2 with a 6-1 win in her second set, leaving Epstein and Kent as the last two matches on the court.
Down 5-3 at No. 4, William & Mary's Cepeda held serve to stave off elimination. But once Kent began serving she quickly finished things off. Tied 15-15, Kent had a beautiful get on a drop shot and was rewarded when her return hit the top of the net and dropped over on the other side, putting her up 30-15. She won the next point to go up 40-15, and with the match hanging in the balance Cepeda could not put away multiple lobs from Kent on the next point. Cepeda finally sent one wide, touching off a memorable celebration for Yale.
Ironically Kent -- the woman who clinched the historic win for the Bulldogs -- was not even aware of the significance of her victory for a moment. She knew that she was one of the last three matches on the court, and that Yale needed two wins. But since Sullivan won her match just minutes before Kent finished, Kent did not know that her win gave Yale its fourth point.
"Had I known that Annie had finished, maybe I would have been a little bit more nervous, but it was already nerve-wracking enough," Kent said.
Of course, as Kent's teammates rushed the court it quickly became clear to her what had happened.
"It was just an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm and pride," Kent said. "We all worked so hard for that moment. We had been envisioning it since the start of our season."
For Kent, Saturday's win was also a confirmation of what she saw two years earlier, prior to transferring to Yale after her freshman year.
"I remember competing against the Bulldogs my freshman year and thinking I would give anything to be on that team," Kent said. "They warmed up together, they dressed the same, and they just represented themselves so well. I couldn't imagine being on a more united team. This is exactly how I expected things would go. I knew that they would do well, and that's exactly why I wanted to transfer. I could clearly tell that they worked really hard on and off the court, and I really wanted to be a part of it."
On a team full of competitors, Petrelli noted that it was fitting that Kent got the clincher.
"I love watching my teammates play because they all fight so hard and they all are just such great competitors, and especially Steph," Petrelli said. "Watching her clinch that final point was awesome, because she just gets so fired up in matches. It's really inspiring to watch."
As a senior, Saturday's win also had particularly special meaning for Petrelli. She and her classmates, just days away from graduating, shared one more highlight.
"I've had an incredible experience playing with Lindsay and Silia," Petrelli said. "Every single year since I've been here with this class we've accomplished greater things and really have moved forward. It's been really special to do this well with them, and to see over the past four years, all the hard work we've put in and all the goals we've set -- actually reaching them."
The Bulldogs have now won six matches in a row, and they snapped an eight-match winning streak by William & Mary (16-9).
The second round match takes place at 2 p.m. Sunday. The Bulldogs face No. 3 Duke, which beat Richmond 3-0 Saturday.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (email@example.com), Yale Sports Publicity
1. Annie Sullivan/Lindsay Clark (Y) def. No. 43 Anik Cepeda/Hope Johnson (W&M) 8-4
2. Elizabeth Epstein/Vicky Brook (Y) def. Marlen Mesgarzadeh/Katie Kargl (W&M) 8-1
3. Kim Szokol/Blair Seideman (Y) vs. Lauren Sabacinski/Jeltje Loomans (W&M) unfinished
1. Elizabeth Epstein (Y) vs. Marlen Mesgarzadeh (W&M) 7-6 (7-4), 4-2 unfinished
2. Vicky Brook (Y) def. Hope Johnson (W&M) 6-0, 6-3
3. Jeltje Loomans (W&M) def. Blair Seideman (Y) 6-2, 6-3
4. Steph Kent (Y) def. Anik Cepeda (W&M) 6-4, 6-4
5. Annie Sullivan (Y) def. Lauren Sabacinski (W&M) 6-4, 6-1
6. Katie Kargl (W&M) def. Stevi Petrelli (Y) 6-1, 6-4
William & Mary 16-9; National ranking #43
Yale 22-4; National ranking #30
Order of finish: Doubles (2,1); Singles (2,3,6,5,4)