NORTHFIELD, Minn. — The Carleton College Knights are back-to-back-to-back champions!
The only two teams to have won the MIAC Women’s Tennis Playoffs met in the conference tournament final on Saturday with an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships at stake. The Knights overcame an early deficit and claimed their third straight postseason title with a 5-3 victory over Gustavus Adolphus.
Carleton will now make its sixth trip as a team to the national tournament. The Knights previously participated in the NCAA Championships in 1995, 1996, 2005, 2012, and 2013.
“It was a great day for the women's tennis program at Carleton,” said head coach Luciano Battaglini. “Both teams fought very hard, and most importantly, the level of sportsmanship was great throughout the match. For me, that's more important than winning or losing.
“I just have to congratulate Gustavus for a great match and for being a formidable opponent today. I think everyone had a great time competing!”
Today’s match was the closest of the Knights’ seven straight victories in the series. The contest was tied, 3-3, with the final trio of singles competitions all requiring a third set.
The day began with doubles action, and Carleton (18-2 overall) picked up a quick victory at the first slot where the region’s ninth-ranked tandem of Anne Lombardi (Sr./Hinsdale, Ill./Hinsdale Central) and Joyce Yu (So./Taipei, Taiwan/Taipei American School) registered an 8-2 victory.
Gustavus (16-6 overall) won the other two doubles matches to carry a 2-1 lead into singles play. For Carleton to repeat, the Knights would need to win four times in singles.
Yu leveled the team competition as she made quick work of her opponent at fifth singles, posting a 6-0, 6-0 win. Soon after, Katherine Greenberg (Sr./St. Louis, Mo./Clayton) pushed Carleton in front, 3-2 when she notched a 6-0, 6-2 result at sixth singles. For both Knights in was their seventh consecutive singles victory.
Gustavus evened things back up with a 6-1, 6-1 win at second doubles.
With three singles results remaining undecided, both sides would now need two more victories to claim the title.
The tension rose at Bell Field, and the raucous crowd cheered and waited. And waited and cheered. And waited some more.
Lombardi and Mikayla Becich (So./Bradfordwoods, Pa./North Allegheny) claimed the opening sets of their first and third singles matches by identical 6-1 scores only to watch their opponents even things up and force both contests to go the distance. Meanwhile, after dropping the first set Molly Hemes (Sr./Green Bay, Wis./Preble) also headed for a third set following her 6-2 win in the second set.
Serving up 5-4 in the third set, Becich became locked in an extending deuce situation with Lizzy Stanczyk. The Carleton sophomore eventually held serve and closed out her match by scores of 6-1, 4-6, and 6-4. That brought the Knights within one point of the title.
A short while later, Lombardi battled back from “ad in” and eventually broke her opponent, regionally-ranked Michaela Schultz, to claim the fifth team point for Carleton with her 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 result.
Hemes’ match against Sidney Dirks was deadlocked, 6-6, in the final set and had moved into a tiebreaker. With the team result now determined, the coaches elected to leave the fourth singles match unfinished.
“We are excited to go to the national tournament, and hopefully we can compete well and do the best we can,” Battaglini said. “I am proud of this team and how they behaved the entire year.”
The Knights went 10-0 in the MIAC during the regular season and improved to 18-1 versus non-Division I opponents. They will find out their opening-round opponent for the NCAA Championships when the full draw is announced on NCAA.com at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 5.