April 2, 2010

By Alex Prewitt
Special to NCAA.com

No April Fools jokes here; the defending champions are roaring back.  

With NESCAC rival Amherst maintaining a stranglehold on the top slot in the latest ITA Top 30 National Poll, the Williams College Ephs are nestled comfortably into the No. 2 position thanks to a dominating display at last weekend’s Fab 5 Tournament at Mary Washington University.

Playing on the courts where they will try to win the national title for the third straight year in late May, the Ephs captured their sixth consecutive match and third at the Fab 5 Tournament, defeating then-No. 2 Emory on Saturday, 6-3.

Though the Eagles were on a bit of a slide, having lost to then-No.6 Washington & Lee the day before in their first Div. III loss of the season, Williams nonetheless dominated the overall match, beating Emory for the third time in two years, including a 5-0 win in last spring’s national semifinals.

The Ephs rolled through the three doubles matches, winning by 8-3, 9-7 and 8-5 margins respectively, before clinching the match with gutsy three-set victories at each of the first two singles. At the No. 1 slot, Williams senior captain Grace Baljon downed Emory junior Lorne McManigle, the defending NCAA singles champion and current top-ranked Div. III singles player in the country, in a third-set tiebreaker. The win came one week after Baljon downed the 2008 singles champion, Siobhan Finicane of Pomona-Pitzer. Sophomore Kristin Alotta, additionally, continued her impressive career at No. 2 singles, capturing her 41st straight singles victory, battling back after dropping the first set, 6-3, to win the final two by 6-4 and 6-3 margins.

With the match wrapped up, Williams fell at No. 4 through No. 6 doubles, and also lost Wednesday night to Div. I James Madison, 5-2, in a match that saw Alotta’s streak end with a  6-3, 6-4 defeat at the hands of sophomore Kinsey Pate.

Williams, nonetheless, remain undefeated versus Div. III opponents since a narrow 6-3 defeat against Amherst in the fall, and will wrap up its tour of Virginia with a date at Washington & Lee, currently ranked fifth in the nation, today.

In other action at the Fab 5 Tournament in Fredericksburg, Va., the host Eagles dropped two of three, falling to the University of Chicago 9-0 in the opening match and then again to Emory, 8-1. Mary Washington, currently ranked 16th in the country, only rebounded on Saturday with a narrow 5-4 win versus No. 24 Skidmore.

With a 7-2 win over No. 13 Johns Hopkins, Chicago moved up ahead of Emory into the No. 3 slot in the latest poll, thanks in large part to its dominating display versus the Blue Jays. The Maroons captured five of six singles matches and two of three doubles, including a straight-set victory at No. 6 singles by Shanelle Trail, a match in which the freshman ceded just two total games.

Chicago sophomore Kendra Higgins, additionally, earned UAA Athlete of the Week honors, for sweeping five matches at No. 1 singles on the Maroons’ spring break tour, extending her undefeated streak to 13 and improving to 22-1 overall. The sophomore, who earned her seventh career Athlete of the Week accolades, also won all five doubles matches.

GLORY FOR GUSTAVUS: No. 9 Gustavus Adolphus, despite being tucked away neatly up in Minnesota, has had no trouble dispatching nationally ranked opponents recently, as evidenced by its defeat of No. 20 Redlands and No. 12 Chapman College on consecutive days this week.

Against Chapman on Tuesday, the Golden Gusties, despite losing at No. 1 and No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles, used a deep roster to sweep No. 3 through No. 6 singles in straight sets. No Gustavus Adolphus singles player who won gave up more than three games in a given set, and four sets were won by 6-1 margins or better.

A similar result unfolded the day prior in taking on Redlands, when the Golden Gusties swept doubles and sandwiched three losses at No. 2 through No. 4 singles with victories at No. 1, No. 5 and No. 6 singles, capped off by a 6-3, 6-0 win by sophomore Megan Gaard at No. 5 singles which clinched the overall victory.

Gustavus Adolphus capped off its California tour with a 2-1 record out west and now sit at 17-9 overall in preparation of ITA Midwest Indoor Invitational in Madison, Wis. this weekend.

QUICK ACES:  Tufts University took the biggest hit in the recent national poll, tumbling from No. 12 to No. 17 after dropping three of its first five matches down in Florida over spring break. Versus all Div. I and Div. II opponents, the Jumbos took down Nova Southeastern and Northwood but fell by wide margins to No. 5 Barry and No. 2 Lynn, as well as to Div. I Cornell. Tufts will attempt to rebound with two NESCAC matchups at Colby and Bates this weekend … It was a solid week for the nation’s best, as no top-10 squad fell to a team that was not ranked in the top 10 in Div. III or was of a higher division … Hanging with Gustavus Adolphus in the MIAC standings is Carleton, undefeated in conference play at 4-0 and a solid 8-3 overall. The Knights will get their crack at their conference foe on Friday at the Midwest Indoors.