May 30, 2010

By Shane Mettlen

Special to NCAA.com

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - After a tough loss in last year's quarterfinals, Tufts junior Julia Browne had one goal this season: to leave the NCAA Division III women's tennis finals as a national champ.

The mission was accomplished on Sunday as Browne defeated Williams College senior Grace Baljon in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5, to claim the singles title that eluded her after last year's loss to eventual NCAA champ Lorne McManigle of Emory.

"I'm very proud and emotional about it," Browne said after her victory on the University of Mary Washington courts. "I've wanted this since my freshman year and I've been working really hard. I had a really good season this year and was really hoping to be able to go through the tournament with a win."

Browne, the tourney's No. 3 seed, finished with a remarkable 28-2 record and said beating Baljon for the third time this season was not easy.

"Today was really tough," Browne said. "It was the toughest match of the tournament for me, which is fitting because it was the finals. Grace played great so I'm just really proud."

After rolling through the first set it appeared that Baljon, who finished the season 21-10, might force what would have been her third-straight three-set match of the tournament.

Baljon led 3-2 in the second set, but neither player could gain a big lead as both struggled to hold serve. Browne rallied to take a 6-5 lead. In the final game she held serve to win every point and claim the game, set, match and tournament.

When it was over, Browne left the court in tears and was greeted by her family for an emotional celebration.

For Baljon and Williams it was almost a perfect ending to an amazing week. On Thursday, the Ephs claimed their third consecutive team title with Baljon playing as the No. 1 in singles.

Williams made school history as both Baljon and Kristin Alotta reached the quarterfinals. Baljon was then able to pull out a hard-fought match over The College of New Jersey's Jackie Shtemberg in the semis to advance into the final round.

"I've been here for eight days now and I couldn't be in a better place," Baljon said.

"Everyday was a fight and I wouldn't have had it any other way. Some matches can be easy, but the ones that are worth winning are the one's that are toughest. Julia is an excellent player and is one of the nicest people I've ever played so she deserves it too."

Williams coach Alison Swain said Baljon would go down as one of the most celebrated players in the Ephs rich tennis history.

"She played No. 1 singles for us two years in a row and led our team to national championships and was No. 2 singles when we won our first national championship," Swain said. "I don't know how many players in this country can say they won two national championships for their team as the No. 1 singles player. I think it's probably a very small few. I'm so proud of Grace. She's give so much to this program."

Baljon hopes her influence on the program lasts after her graduation next week.

"It's kind of a lot to take in," Baljon said. "I guess I've accomplished a lot. It's kind of exciting to look back on it all. I get to leave it behind for my teammates and I get to take it all with me. I know I've learned a lot from my teammates and hopefully they've learned equally as much from me and it won't be like I'm leaving."

Browne will also try to build her legacy at Tufts when she defends her title next year, but for now she's simply celebrating this year's triumph.

"The loss last year to Lorne made me even more hungry to get it done this year," Browne said. "It's still very emotional and I'm really proud that I got it done today."