April 8, 2010

By Alex Prewitt
Special to NCAA.com

MAROONS MAUL IN MIDWEST: For the majority of the spring tennis season following the winter's ITA Indoor National Championships, the dozens of dual meets are simply preparation for the grand event: the NCAA Championships. As teams strive to improve their final rosters for the long haul in May, records mean little come playoff time.

But at the Midwest Invitational this past weekend at Madison, Wis., bragging rights were up for grabs as well as a chance to go up against some of the nation's best squads. At least this year, the University of Chicago women came up on top.

The third-ranked Maroons (14-3) captured the championship thanks to a 5-2 squeaker over sixth-ranked Denison University, winning four of the six singles matches and the only competed doubles match. Leading the way against the Big Red was sophomore No. 1 Kendra Higgins, who won her 16th straight match via a 5-7, 6-0, 6-3 decision against senior Marta Drane and also teamed up with junior Chrissy Hu to win at No. 1 doubles, 8-3. The doubles victory for Chicago was the pair's eighth in a row, pushing Higgins and Hu's record as a team to 19-5 on the year.

The hard-fought match saw two three-set matches at singles, including at No. 2 when junior Kristin Cobb took sophomore Jennifer Kung to a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 decision. Chicago sophomore Carmen Vaca Guzman and freshman Linden Li also were forced into second-set tie-breakers, but both emerged victorious in straight sets.

The Maroons opened the tournament with a 9-0 rout of No. 26 Coe College and edged ninth-ranked Gustavus Adolphus, 5-4, in the semifinals on Friday. Versus the Gusties, Higgins and Kung each rolled to straight-set decisions, ceding a combined five games. Guzman and Hu, additionally, each captured their respective second set but lost in the third-set tiebreaker. Chicago used victories at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles to edge Gustavus Adolphus and earn its spot in the finals.

MIDWEST ROUND-UP: In other action at the Midwest Tournament, Denison made it to the finals thanks to a 8-1 victory over No. 25 Luther in the opening round, followed by a 7-2 rout of No. 7 DePauw, a match in which the Big Red won every doubles match and captured all four of their singles wins in straight sets.

Denison sophomore Kate Westenberger, the Big Red's No. 6 singles player, improved to a team-best 14-2 in singles play on the year thanks to a 7-6, 6-0 win over Luther freshman Cassandra Chalhoub and then a 6-4, 6-1 victory against senior Courtney Griffin of DePauw.

Gustavus Adolphus rebounded from its first-round loss against Chicago with back-to-back victories, first over No. 14 Washington University and then a 5-4 decision versus DePauw. Junior Marianne Barau took both her singles matches on the day by 6-2, 6-1 decision, while senior Ali O'Neal won both decisions in straight sets.

DePauw sandwiched a 7-2 win over 18th-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater in between losses to the Gusties and Denison. The seventh-ranked Tigers downed the Warhawks via five out of six wins in singles and then two out of three in doubles. All of DePauw's victories in singles came in straight sets, while at No. 6 singles Griffin battled freshman Lauren Aguilar to a third-set, eventually falling 2-6, 6-4, 7-5.

CARNEGIE CRUISES: Back east, 10th-ranked Carnegie Mellon is poised to surge up the next ITA Top 25 poll following two convincing wins in the past week over No. 13 Johns Hopkins and No. 16 Mary Washington.

Against the Blue Jays on Sunday, the Tartans recovered from dropping four singles matches to snatch all three doubles to win, 5-4. Sophomore Laura Chen, the sixth-ranked singles player in the country, teamed up with junior Ashley Herrick to win at No. 1 doubles, 8-2. Sophomore Courtney Chin and freshman Alex Tapak, as well as junior Jennifer Chui and sophomore Cze-Ja Tam, were victorious at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles, respectively.

Though Chin, Tapak and Chui all fell during singles play, the depth and strong doubles play of the Tartans was on display at home this past weekend to help the squad score the top-25 victory.

It was a similar result versus the Eagles on Friday, as Carnegie Mellon captured all three doubles by sweeping margins, en route to a 8-1 win over Mary Washington on the road. Chen, again, dominated at No. 1 singles, winning 6-1, 6-1, while Chui at No. 4 was the only Tartan to drop a match.

QUICK ACES: No. 17-ranked Tufts was recently awarded the ITA National Team Sportsmanship Award, a monthly award that goes to one men's and one women's team that has exemplified outstanding sportsmanship, character and ethical conduct in the true spirit of competition and collegiate tennis. The Jumbos have won three straight NESCAC road matches by 9-0 margins and look to parlay their recent award into more success when they host unranked Trinity this weekend ... No. 28 Brandeis was upset by unranked Wellesley on Friday, as the visiting Judges only won at No. 2 and No. 4 singles. The Blue captured all three doubles by 8-6 decisions, and saw three of their singles players take at least one set by a 6-0 margin ... In a top-25 matchup down in Texas, host Texas-Tyler got the best of Trinity University (Texas) in a 5-4 squeaker. Texas-Tyler nearly had the victory wrapped up after a four-win showing in singles, and got it when junior Emily McRae and sophomore Sydni Hermsdorf won at No. 2 doubles, 8-4.