ST. PETER, Minn. – Back-to-back champs!
The Carleton College women’s tennis team successfully defended its MIAC Playoff title from a year ago by posting a 5-1 victory against Gustavus Adolphus College and a 5-0 triumph over University of St. Thomas. By winning the conference tournament, the Knights clinch the MIAC’s automatic berth in the upcoming NCAA Championships.
The Knights will now make their fifth trip as a team to the national tournament. Carleton previously participated in the NCAA Championships in 1995, 1996, 2005, and 2012.
“Today ended up being a very special day for Carleton tennis,” said Carleton head coach Luciano Battaglini. “Winning the conference tournament back-to-back is something that is very exciting for us.”
A strong start in doubles was key for the Knights in the semifinals as they posted their fifth consecutive victory over Gustavus. Bridget Doyle (Mendota Heights, Minn./Visitation) and Anne Lombardi (Jr./Hinsdale, Ill./Hinsdale Central) raced out to a big lead and won their doubles match, 8-3, for their seventh consecutive victory. Katherine Greenberg (Jr./St. Louis, Mo./Clayton) and Molly Hemes (Jr./Green Bay, Wis./Preble) added an 8-5 triumph at third doubles, but the Gusties got a point back at the second spot with an 8-6 decision.
Upon moving to singles, things went south early for the Knights as Doyle, Lombardi and Hemes each dropped the opening set. Mikayla Becich (Fy./Bradfordwoods, Pa./North Allegheny) helped shift the momentum, however, when she posted a 6-3, 6-1 victory at the third spot.
Lombardi overcame her early deficit and extended the Carleton lead to 4-1 overall as she prevailed 4-6, 6-0, 6-3. Both Doyle and Hemes forced their matches to the deciding third set, and Doyle reached the finish line first, tallying a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 result to clinch the match.
“The conference tournament is very challenging because you have to play two full matches in a day. The morning match against Gustavus was a battle. They came ready to compete and give their very best,” said Battaglini. “It was not easy for us to overcome them playing at their home, in front of their crowd. It’s never easy to succeed under those conditions. I give credit to them for putting up a very good fight.”
The Knights could then turn their attention to the other semifinal match as No. 4 seed St. Thomas erased a 3-1 deficit to eliminate top-seeded St. Catherine University, the regular-season champs.
In the finals, Hemes and Greenberg notched the first point for Carleton with their 8-3 triumph at third doubles. It was the duo’s sixth straight victory. Doyle and Lombardi kept the Knights rolling with an 8-1 decision at first doubles while Becich and Grace Davis (Fy./Neenah, Wis./Neenah) avenged a regular-season doubles loss to by posting an 8-6 victory.
“St. Thomas has a talented team, too. We needed to set the tone early, which we did,” Battaglini said. “We played very well early one and by sweeping doubles, that made it hard for them to believe they could overcome us.”
While the doubles matches were played outdoors, action moved inside the Swanson Tennis Center for singles. Even with the shift in location, the momentum stayed squarely with the Knights as all six players won the opening set of their singles matches. It soon became a race to see who would complete their contests and secure the NCAA bid.
The rookies were first to finish as Becich posted a 6-3, 6-0 result at third singles, and Claire Spencer (Fy./Newport News, Va./Menchville) prevailed 6-2, 6-1 at fifth singles. Because the match was moved indoors, the match was played to decision rather than to completion.
“I’m very proud of this group. We have a young team and hopefully we can put on a good show in the national tournament,” said Battaglini.
The Knights went 9-1 in the MIAC during the regular season and are 15-7 overall. They will find out their opening round opponent for the NCAA Championships when the full draw is announced during an online selection show on Monday, May 6.