“I got absolutely nothing done today except my laundry,” I heard from a student upon returning to Carleton from the Midwest Invitational Tennis Tournament in Madison, Wisconsin last weekend. The Carleton Women’s Tennis team, on the other hand, can say we broke a tradition that Saturday. For the first time in nearly 24 years, the Knights defeated Gustavus Adolphus College. To put that into perspective, the last win for the Knights came at a time when a gallon of gas cost 91 cents, Reagan and Thatcher were doing the cabbage patch, and Macgyver was still trying to repair a Commodore 64 with duct tape, gum, and a paper clip.
Before the historic match, however, the Lady Knights played two matches on Friday against Kenyon College and Depauw University, ending in mixed results. 2011 ITA National Coach-of-the-Year Luciano Battaglini said of the tournament, “It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to play because it is an invitational tournament and usually the highest ranked teams in the region get invited so you never know if you are going to get invited. It is a great opportunity to play teams in our region that we don’t normally get to play.”
Carleton easily topped the unfamiliar Kenyon team in the first match of the tournament in an 8-1 win with the sole loss coming from this this writer (Felicity Flesher ’14) with an exciting 3-6, 7-6, 10-8 finish. This glimpse of excitement would foreshadow how the rest of the tournament would play out for Carleton.
The Knights overcame #10 Depauw last year at the Midwest Invitational in their first win over a nationally ranked team since 2005. This year’s round proved less fortuitous for Carleton as they marked a 6-3 loss on the scoreboard. #3 ranked Kathryn Schmidt ’12 and Anne Lombardi ’14 pulled out key singles wins in third set tiebreakers while Erin Gudul ’12, #17 ranked Bridget Doyle ’13, and Katherine Greenberg ’14 all took their matches to tiebreakers for losses. Lombardi and Doyle picked up the third win in their doubles with just as tough a match at 8-5. With these wins, sophomore Lombardi also improved to a team-best 13-2 in singles and 15-4 in doubles for the season.
Despite five of six singles matches going into a tiebreaker against Depauw, the real tension arrived when Carleton met the great foe, Gustavus Adolphus, in a non-conference match. As mentioned above, the Knights were not only facing a formidable opponent, but also 24 years of consecutive losses. In addition, the intimidating Gusties have won the last 209 regular-season MIAC matches since 1990, 20 consecutive MIAC championships, and all five MIAC Playoff titles.
Even in terms of rankings, the Gusties were the favorite this year with a national ranking of #20 while the Knights are at #29 – at least for now. Despite all the hype, the Knights approached the match like any other. Coach Battaglini described the mindset, “We try to take every match the same way and I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t. Gustavus is just as tough as a lot of teams we play against and we respect every team we play against. We want to explore our full potential as a team.” It can easily be said that the team did just that.
The match played out in what can only be described as cinematic fashion. After the completion of doubles, the Knights had the upper hand with wins in the Lombardi/Doyle and Greenberg/Molly Hemes ’14 pairings while Schmidt and Gudul drew their match out as long as possible for an 8-5 loss putting the score at 2-1 Carleton before singles. The next few hours carried greater and greater tension as matches came off the court, alternating favor. At number one singles, Schmidt handled her opponent, #16 Alex Erickson with ease 6-1, 6-2. Gudul likewise was able to come off the court with a nimble win 6-2, 6-2. Losses on Hemes’ and Greenberg’s singles courts meanwhile brought the team score to 4-3 Carleton with two matches remaining.
The opportunity to break nearly 30 years of tradition lay in the hands of Doyle and Lombardi as the two battled their opponents on adjacent courts with the Knights and Gusties cheering as loudly as possible in between. Doyle was down a set 4-6, but had ferocity in her eyes as she worked towards a comeback. Lombardi, on the other hand, had nabbed the first set in an adept 6-0, but was faced with an all-too-spunky rival across the net. As fate would have it, Doyle would end up losing her match 4-6 in the second set just as Lombardi wound up in a third set tiebreaker to determine the entire match.
Last year, the Knights were in the same position in their combat with Depauw with Hemes pulling out a tiebreaker on the exact same court where Lombardi was last Saturday. Confident in her abilities, Lombardi noted of the situation, “I just tried not to think about my match as being the deciding match. Once I got to the super breaker I just tried to focus on one point at a time.” With skill, determination, teamwork, and a little luck, Lombardi turned her individual win in the tiebreaker 10-6 into a collective win at 5-4 for 24 years of defeated Knights. Her play this weekend also earned her the title of MIAC Tennis Athlete-of-the-Week as she completed a perfect weekend in individual play.
Although this weekend’s rollercoaster ride may have just pulled into the station, there are many more thrilling rides to come as the Knights improve to 11-5 on the season. The Knights face St. Olaf at home at Bell Field this Thursday at 4:30 pm and proceed to the land of cornfields and pig farms as they face Luther College in Decorah, IA this Saturday.
Look out for a Gustavus rematch (or two) later in the season when the Knights will be able to prove themselves once more. The ever-inspirational Coach Battaglini meditated, “I know we can play better individually and as a team. The most important question is whether we can improve?”
“We keep learning about ourselves. The process is always the most important: that’s our team mantra,” he says wearing his own concoction, a “PROCESS IS EVERYTHING” elastic bracelet, “we can always try our best in every situation. We will approach them [Gustavus] in a respectful way like every team we play against. It should be no different really.”