May 28, 2010

By Shane Mettlen
Special to

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - When Vassar's Nicole Pontee saw the draw for the singles tournament of the NCAA Division III Women's Tennis Championships at the University of Mary Washington, she realized the pressure was off.

On her side of the bracket was No. 1 seed Liz Lewis of Chapman. Pontee had defeated Chapman two years earlier. But as Pontee was unseeded, she knew it was Lewis who would feel the weight on her shoulders.

"I was really excited to play Liz," Pontee said. "I had played her before, and she's a really good competitor. I felt like the pressure was off. I think the pressure is always a little more on the No. 1 seed, and I kind of like playing as the underdog."

Pontee got through the opening round with a three-set victory over Carleton's Kathryn Schmidt, which set up a meeting with Lewis. In that one, the Vassar senior got off to a hot start and pulled out a straight-sets victory to advance to Saturday's quarterfinals.

The style that both players brought to the match was looked at as an advantage in Pontee's camp.

"I know Nicole likes the kind of ball that Liz hits," Vassar coach Kathy Campbell said. "Nicole plays a really offensive game, and she was able to do that. I think she definitely felt relaxed out there and felt she could play aggressively, which she needs to do. I think all the pressure was off."

FAMILIAR FACES: A day after beating Emory in the finals of the team tournament, Williams saw plenty of the Eagles again on the opening day of singles play.

Both Grace Baljon and Kristin Alotta advanced to the quarterfinals by beating Emory players. In fact, the Williams duo swapped opponents from the day before. Alotta was able to beat Emory's Zahra Dawson a day after Baljon faced her in the team event. Baljon advanced to the quarterfinals by beating the Eagles' Lorne McManigle.

Emory and Williams weren't the only ones facing each other again. A day after Amherst and Chicago played in the third-place match, their players saw each other in singles.

Amherst's Brittany Berckes beat Chicago's Kendra Higgins to advance to the quarterfinals, and Chicago's Jennifer Kung took out Amherst's Laura Danzig in the opening round.

"It was really weird that Grace and I both had to play Emory girls again today," Alotta said. "I see that the two Amherst girls have played two Chicago girls also. It's strange, but there are so many good players here that any match is going to be a good match."