Among the bears I would take advice from, Winnie the Pooh tops the list with his quote: “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” The words of this bear never rang more true than they do now, as the Lady Knights tennis team finished their season with a taste of success in the NCAA Championships.
After winning both the MIAC regular season and the MIAC playoffs, the Knights embarked on their foray into the NCAA Championships with an opener against Grinnell College at the University of Chicago courts. During the season, the Knights defeated Grinnell 9-0 but expected the Pioneers to come out this time with guns blazing.
Despite strong play by Grinnell, the Knights remained unfettered by the challenge, taking the match 5-0. Although Katherine Greenberg ’14 and Molly Hemes ’14 encountered some trouble in their doubles match, they came back from 1-6 deficit to win 9-7,.Greenberg followed up with a supremely confident win in singles 6-0, 6-0.
Erin Gudul ’12 and Kathryn Schmidt ’12 were hardly on the court before sending their opponents away with an 8-1 win over the Pioneers while Bridget Doyle ’13 and Anne Lombardi ’14 were not far behind with an 8-2 win. In playing the match to the fifth point decision, Gudul turned the lights out for the day with a 6-0, 6-2 win in singles.
Unfortunately, the following day proved a bit more grisly for the Knights as they took on another familiar opponent in the form of home team University of Chicago. Chicago, the #2 team in the nation, defeated #30 Carleton over spring break 9-0, but with three matches in tiebreakers and all closer than the score reflected. This time around, the Maroons quickly silenced the Knights’ nine-match win streak with a win 5-0, sending the Knights home from the single-elimination championships.
The Knights ended their regular season 18-4 against Division III opponents, with all four losses going to opponents (including Chicago) who made it past the second round of NCAA play. After last weekend, Chicago goes into the quarterfinals of the tournament, to be continued in Cary, NC next week.
“Chicago is just a tough team,” Schmidt said of her final team match. “The 5-0 score reflects the fact that they were stronger than us on that day. How well they have prepared was also evident in how they could pull out the majority of the close points even though we were right there with them. I’m proud of how our team fought, tried to adjust when we were down, and just kept laying our hearts out there.”
She continued to say that even though the fans were silenced to a degree by playing in a glass-enclosed rain location, “that couldn’t even stop them nor the positive, supportive atmosphere that carried through the whole match.”
While most of the matches against Chicago looked glum, senior Schmidt looked primed for a comeback at 3-6, 3-0 when play stopped. She could turn this glimmer of hope into further success as she continues along with her Chicago rival in singles to the 32-player field at the NCAA Individual Championships next weekend in Cary, NC. Her entrance into the tournament marks the fourth time in Schmidt’s career that she head into the NCAA Individual Championships. She is the only Lady Knight to do so in the last seven years, which is also the time that the team has gone since last entering NCAA Championship play.
Even as she continues into individual play, Schmidt still relies on the strength of her team to back-up her play. “There is always a strong draw, but it is my job at this point to play for all the work my teammates have put in and all of the sacrifices they have made for this team. When faced with hardship you can either react with fear or respond with strength, and as many times as we have all played tight in our tennis careers, I want to play out of love for my team and respect how my teammates and coaches have helped me prepare along this journey.”
MIAC Coach-of-the-Year Luciano Battaglini always looks on the team’s success with an eye to the future. “These little things that we are doing in the program, from recruiting to practicing in a more organized fashion, practicing a little bit more in the off season, all these little things start adding up. Frankly we have a lot more work to do if we want to get to another level. A lot of work to do.”
Although I would turn first to Winnie the Pooh for advice, there is one other bear with a few words of wisdom for the Knights. Six-time national champion Bear Bryant wisely said, “It’s not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference.” The Knights are willing to prepare, so next year expect the continuation of what will become a legacy.