May 28, 2010

Feature: Familiar Foes Meet Again In Opening Round Of Singles Tournament

By Shane Mettlen
Special to NCAA.com

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - After winning the third team title of her career Thursday, Williams senior Grace Baljon said any success the Ephs had in the singles and doubles competition would be "icing on the cake."

By Friday afternoon, it was beginning to look like that cake might be well-frosted.

Baljon, the No. 8 seed in the singles tournament, and teammate Kristin Alotta each advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III Women's Tennis Championships at the University of Mary Washington.

"Today, I think, is the hardest to come out and play good tennis if you've played the team tournament all the way out," Williams coach Alison Swain said. "The girls are exhausted. We focus on the team tournament, so this is a very different energy once you get to this stage of the NCAA tournament. I'm very proud of Grace and Kristin for mustering up the energy and the heart to pull out their matches today."

It's just the second time in the rich history of the Williams program that two Ephs have advanced this far.

Baljon cruised through the first round, taking care of Trinity's Katie Griffith 6-1, 6-2. In the next round she faced Lorne McManigle of Emory and, after battling to a 7-5 win in the first set, she slammed the door in the second 6-0.

"We won yesterday, and that's what I came here for," Baljon said.

"That was my dream ... to end my senior year with the team on a good note. I'm here for fun, and it's an honor to be invited and get to play here. My goal at the beginning of the day was just to get through the day because it's been a really long week."

Once she hit the court, though, Baljon had a feeling she could advance and keep her season alive.

"I was really calm today, and I went for the right shot," she said.

"They happened to go in, so I thought I played really well. I had a lot of energy and think that's what got me to the quarterfinals because I had very worthy opponents."

After Baljon made it through to the quarterfinals, the Ephs turned their focus to Alotta, who opened her day with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Pomona-Pitzer's Jamie Solomon.

After that it was another showdown with team runner-up Emory for the Ephs. Alotta took on the Eagles' Zahra Dawson in the second round, and, like Baljon, faced a stiffer test in the round of 16.

The first set went back and forth, with Alotta finally prevailing 7-6 (8-6). After breaking through in the first set, Alotta had the energy to close it out in the second, taking down Dawson 6-0.

"Yesterday was absolute insanity, and I couldn't imagine playing another match after getting off the court against Emory yesterday," Alotta said. "We were absolutely ecstatic, but I think we all just said, 'Let's come out here together today and fight like we did all week.'"

Like Baljon, Alotta was just enjoying the ride into the quarterfinals, but now that she has advanced she has set her sights on going all the way.

"We came through and these are really good results overall, so we are pumped," she said. "I feel unbelievably fortunate for the team success and for the individual success. We're such a close group, and I think that's where a lot of our success comes from. We're friends before teammates."

Despite the Ephs' doubles team of Baljon and Taylor French losing in straight sets to Chicago's Chrissy Hu and Kendra Higgins, the crew from Williams might be feeling better than any of the remaining programs.

"Our girls played very focused tennis," Swain said. "They played aggressive, and they played with a lot of confidence. It's fun to see."