If you have ever seen a kid with a new puppy or a proud student walking across the graduation stage, then you can envision the faces of the Carleton Women’s Tennis team as they took home the MIAC playoff trophy. The metaphorical icing on the cake was the fact that in all six years of the playoffs’ existence, Gustavus Adolphus College has taken home the gold—that is, until 2012, when the Knights took the championship.
First, in the semifinals of MIAC tournament, the Knights steadfastly kept their eyes on the main prize, allowing no hint of hope for St. Thomas by accomplishing a 5-0 victory. Bridget Doyle ’13 and Anne Lombardi ’14 knocked out efficient matches at doubles and singles for the Knights while the rest of the Knights, consisting of senior captain pairing Kathryn Schmidt/Erin Gudul and sophomores Molly Hemes /Katherine Greenberg, followed up for the win in doubles.
The atmosphere heading into the finals against Gustavus was as tense as the million-dollar question on a game show. In the words of freshman Lauren Salberg ’15, “I was basically holding my breath throughout the entire match.” The week prior, the Knights had broken Gustavus’ two-decade regular-season streak by seizing the MIAC regular-season championship with a neck-and-neck 5-4 score. This week, with both tradition and the national tournament on the line, both teams felt the encroaching pressure of the match, but brought their game for every point.
After doubles, Schmidt/Gudul and Doyle/Lombardi pulled out tough wins, while Hemes and Greenberg struggled to end up with a 7-9 loss. Facing a 1-2 deficit, the Gusties appeared to step up their game in singles, first taking down #21 in the region Doyle in straight sets. Gudul, this week’s MIAC player-of-the-week, made up for her teammate’s loss by winning 6-1, 6-4. The match also allowed Gudul to make up for her loss the previous week against the same Gustie opponent.
“I needed to get a little vengeance from my singles match that I let slip away the previous week,” said Gudul. “I came out strong, confident, and did a much better job staying focused throughout the whole match.”
At 3-2 in the total match score, with Hemes and Greenberg each up a set, the Knights seemed to have the match comfortably in their grasp. But as usual, the dramatic parts of the contest were still to come.
Greenberg, up 6-1, 5-2 in her match, was met with an opponent who—much like all the Gusties—did not back down, and thus brought her match to a third set. Likewise, Hemes was taken to a third set. Lombardi and #3 Schmidt, each after losing their respective first sets, came back with fiery momentum to third sets. With the final four deciding matches in third sets, the fans sat clutching their hearts and checking their pulses. Freshman Beret Fitzgerald noted, “I think I was a lot more nervous during the third sets than the people playing them.”
Lombardi fell first, losing 4-6 in the third set. Fortunately, Schmidt staked her claim with a win at 6-2 in the last set. The team score stood at 4-3 with all eyes on Greenberg and Hemes; just one more match and the Knights would have it. Although Greenberg clearly had the impetus to be the deciding match, leading 4-1 when play stopped, Hemes sealed the deal after 6-4 in the third set as the team (including a still-playing Greenberg) charged Hemes’ court to hug each other, celebrating the 5-3 team victory. Even Coach Luciano Battaglini was gleefully leaping around as giddy as a schoolboy. Reflecting on the match, he explained that “greatness is not supposed to happen for normal people. Greatness comes from way-above-average or almost abnormal behavior.”
For most “normal” teams, last weekend would have been the finale of a fairly successful tennis season. The quintessentially “abnormal” Carleton, on the other hand, will continue unimpeded for as long as they can muster.
This Friday, the team heads to the University of Chicago campus to play the first round in the NCAA championships against Grinnell College. Should they win, they would face Chicago, the No. 2 team in the nation. The winner of these primary rounds this weekend proceeds to the final rounds May 21-23 in Cary, NC. Schmidt also garnered a spot in the individual national tournament for her fourth year in a row.
In a week full of excitement, the team was met with even more knockout news. Team members Schmidt, Doyle, and Lombardi were honored again this year with All-MIAC honors in both singles in doubles, Schmidt for the fourth time in her career. Gudul was named MIAC Athlete of the Week for her performance.
Hemes was bestowed both singles and doubles All-MIAC recognition for the first time in her career, as was her partner Greenberg in doubles. Schmidt in singles, Lombardi in singles, Hemes in singles, and Hemes/Greenberg in doubles remained undefeated this season against MIAC teams.
Schmidt was also chosen by her teammates and coaches to represent Carleton on the All-MIAC Sportsmanship team. Looking at her upperclassmen leaders, freshman Fitzgerald said, “All the girls were motivated to do well this year and put in the extra work, so I’m happy for all of them; they deserve the awards and recognition.”
Under noble guidance, Carleton ended its regular season at 10-0 in conference matches, 18-5 overall, #30 in the nation, and generally made history. For the team’s progress, Battaglini was thanked as the MIAC coach-of-the-year, an honor he shares with St. Catherine’s Ben Hageseth. Salberg added of Battaglini, “He has as much heart as any of us do and he really just wants us to succeed and is basically willing to do whatever to ensure we can play to the best of our abilities,” a sentiment with which the whole team can agree.
Gudul summed up the entire experience most eloquently, “I could not have imagined a better way to end my tennis experience at Carleton than winning the MIAC playoffs. It is incredible to share such an accomplishment with my teammates and coach. The title was so special because I saw the transformation that our program has taken during my time at Carleton. With the help of Looch [Coach Battaglini], our team has focused on improving our preparation a bit each season, and the results have been rewarding. I am excited for the team and the future accomplishments of this wonderful program.”
Stay tuned for the team’s future accomplishments this weekend in Chicago.