April 15, 2010

By Alex Prewitt
Special to NCAA.com

A WEAKENING ROAR: After opening up the spring season at a 6-2 clip with big wins over nationally ranked Coe College and Skidmore College, The College of New Jersey, undefeated in the NJAC, last week ran into a brick wall called the NESCAC, falling in consecutive matches to Williams and Middlebury to plummet to 2-4 versus ranked opponents in its 2010 campaign.

In the latter set of its two-day slate in Williamstown, Mass., the Lions fell behind early versus the 15th-ranked Panthers, dropping all three doubles matches, and never recovered, eventually falling 6-3. Though senior captain Jackie Shtemberg, the 13th-ranked singles player in the country, handily defeated sophomore Victoria Aiello at No. 1 singles, 6-3, 6-1, the Panthers used straight set wins at No. 2, No. 4 and No. 6 singles to capture the match.

TCNJ's other two singles wins, additionally, did not come easy. At No. 3, freshman Karisse Bendijo narrowly edged out senior Jamie Haar, taking the tiebreaker, 10-8, after splitting the first two sets. A similar result unfolded at fifth singles, where first-year Lauren Balsamo, who took the first set via a tiebreaker, recovered from a 6-2 loss against sophomore Anna Burke in the second set to capture the match with a 10-5 third set win.

Though Williams continued its dominance over Div. III opponents with a 7-2 victory over the Lions, Shtemberg was again the star, battling through a lengthy match at first singles with senior Grace Baljon, ultimately persevering with a 7-6(4), 2-6, 10-4 victory that gave TCNJ one of its two wins in the first meeting between the two squads in 10 years. The other Lions victory came at No. 1 doubles, where Shtemberg and sophomore Felice Trinh took down Baljon and sophomore Taylor French, 9-8(4). Up until that point, Baljon and French had been 6-1 in the spring in doubles play, with the only loss coming in their first match of the season on March 22.

From there, though, it was complete Ephs domination. Only Balsamo at No. 4 singles took her opponent to three sets as four Lions lost a set by 6-2 or worse. TCNJ will look to rebound from the consecutive losses - the first time it had lost back-to-back dual matches since early March 2009 - with three straight home contests in the next two weeks.

SOARING EAGLES: Apparently all the Emory Eagles needed was just a few weeks off.

Following a disappointing end to the Fab 5 Tournament at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va. in which they lost to Williams and Washington & Lee, the Eagles returned to their home courts with a bang, taking down Berry College, the third-ranked NAIA school in the country, 7-2, to hand the Lady Vikings their first dual match loss of the season.

Though the score was lopsided, the individual matches tell a different story. Both Emory's junior Lindsay Reidenbach and senior Sara Vrabec, at No. 5 and No. 6 singles, respectively, dropped their first set and had to rally to eventually capture the match. Sophomore No. 2 Zahra Dawson, additionally, went into a second-set tiebreaker while junior Lorne McManigle, the top-ranked singles player in Div. III, fell handily to sophomore Stephanie Herz, 6-2, 6-0.

The Eagles also took two of the three doubles matches, getting an 8-3 win from seniors Tshema Nash and Sabra Rogers in the No. 2 doubles match, and an 8-6 win from freshman Jordan Wylie and Vrabec at No. 3 doubles.

Emory dropped down one spot to No. 4 in the country thanks to its losses at Fab 5, but looks poised to make a run when it travels to Cleveland for the UAA Championship Tournament this weekend.

BULLDOGS LOSE THEIR BITE: In a bout with first place in the SCIAC on the line last Saturday, No. 20 Chapman fell to its second top-12 opponent in as many days, and will head into this weekend's conference tournament as the second seed. The first seed, No. 7 Pomona-Pitzer, went up 2-1 after doubles and never looked back, surging to a 7-2 win to remain undefeated in the conference at 7-0.

Redlands' one victory in doubles came in the No. 1 slot, where senior Whitney Waters and senior Paige Sumida took down freshmen Jamie Solomon and Kara Wang, 8-6. The Bulldogs, though, won just one more match on the afternoon, as junior Sara Yoshinaga beat sophomore Nicole Holsted in straight sets. At No. 6 singles, sophomore Nicole Gerentine took Pomona-Pitzer senior Zoe Fisher to tiebreakers in each set, but ultimately lost both. All of the Sagehens' five singles winners won in straight sets.

The loss to Pomona-Pitzer came one day after Redlands fell to regional foe, No. 12 Chapman, in which the Bulldogs once again struggled at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles, dropping both after Waters and Sumida won at No. 1. Yoshinaga remained perfect on the weekend, however, rolling to a 6-0, 6-3 win at fourth singles, while Waters took a narrow win at No. 3, 7-5, 7-6(4). The match versus Chapman was much closer than the one versus the Sagehens, as junior Rachael Miller and Gerentine each went into third sets, and the Anderson/Gerentine duo at No. 3 doubles forced a tiebreaker. In the end, though, it was a similar result, as Redlands lost 6-3.

TOP SEEDS GET STRONGER: Little changed in the latest ITA national rankings, as the true contenders for a NCAA Championship only got stronger and beefed up their respective records last week. No team dropped out of the top 10, though Depauw fell from seventh to ninth after dropping two out of three at the Midwest Invitational in Madison, Wisc. Chicago and Emory, additionally, switched spots at third and fourth as did Denison and Washington and Lee at fifth and sixth.

The only team to drop out of the top 30 was Brandeis, who fell out of the poll from No. 28 after falling to unranked Wellelsey, 7-2, and then getting blasted by No. 17 Tufts, 9-0, and No. 1 Amherst, 8-1. Taking its place in the poll were Calvin, Wheaton (MA) and the University of the South, all of which moved into a tie for 30th, while Texas-Tyler and UC Santa Cruz each moved up a spot. Other than that, all teams ranked 10th through 27th stayed static.

FAST ACES: The Sagehens appear to be in prime position to snatch the SCIAC title when the tournament kicks off this weekend. The top-ranked school in the West region has three of its top singles players ranked in the top four in the region, though just one of its doubles teams is in the top 15 ... Williams will have a tough task ahead of it this weekend as it heads on the road to No. 17 Tufts on Saturday and top-ranked Amherst the following day. This will be the third consecutive meeting between the two squads when both are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation. In the past five years in Amherst, Mass., the teams are 3-3 versus each other. The Lord Jeffs, undefeated against Div. III competition this year, should be another strong chapter in an already historic rivalry ... In one of the few top-25 matches last week, No. 22 Vassar eked out a win over No. 25 Skidmore, 5-4, behind consecutive wins at No. 1 through No. 3 singles. Though Skidmore took two doubles matches, victories at first doubles and No. 5 singles were enough for the Brewers.