ORLANDO, Fla. — Nikolina Batoshvili earned the fifth and clinching point by winning the third set at No. 5 singles 6-0 (6-4, 4-6, 6-0) as the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women's tennis team defeated Chicago 5-3 in the NCAA Division III National Finals to win its second straight national title on Wednesday at the USTA National Campus in Orlando.
CMS closed out the season with a 27-1 record and a 23-match winning streak, avenging its only defeat of the season, which came to Chicago in the ITA Indoor Championship on March 5. The Maroons finish the year 23-1, with their only two Division III losses in the last two years both coming to CMS in the national title match, after the Athenas won last year 5-1 at the same facility in Orlando.
Last year's title saw CMS cruise all the way through, dropping only three points in five matches (a 5-2 in over MIT in the quarterfinals and the 5-1 win over Chicago in the championship). This year's title saw the Athenas tested more consistently, beginning with a 5-4 win over Pomona-Pitzer in the regional finals, followed by a 5-4 win over Amherst in the quarterfinals, a 5-1 win over Emory in the semifinals and a 5-3 win over Chicago in the national championship.
CMS took a 2-1 lead after doubles, as Batoshvili and Alisha Chulani had a pivotal comeback after falling down two breaks early. The Athena duo got back on serve at 4-4, and then picked up a key break late before closing out an 8-5 win to give CMS a 2-0 lead. Lindsay Eisenman and Ella Brissett led the whole way at No. 3, and held off a late Chicago rally for an 8-5 win.
Sena Selby had a dominant performance at No. 4 singles to help give the Athenas a further leg up, rolling to a 6-0 first set win and taking a 6-3 second set to put CMS ahead 3-1. Chicago battled back with the next two points to tie it with wins at No. 2 and No. 3 singles, but Eisenman as able to get CMS back in front by taking a 6-3, 6-4 win at No. 6 singles, with her let court serve falling in on the line for match point.
That left Batoshvili and Chulani in three-setters, with CMS needing just one or the other to come through with a win in order to get the clinch. Chulani dropped the first set at No. 1 singles to Sylwia Mikos, who is rated as the No. 1 singles player in Division III. Chulani, though, responded in a big way and ripped off eight straight games, taking the second set 6-0 and jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the third set.
Meanwhile, Batoshvili regrouped after a tight 6-4 loss in the second set, which leveled her match at a set apiece after she took the first set 6-4. She began the third set with a break, and kept the momentum going, stretching the lead up to 5-0. In the decisive game, she jumped out to a 40-15 lead, then came to the net for a backhand volley for championship point, setting off an Athena celebration at the USTA National Campus for the second year in a row.
CMS has now won three of the last four national titles it has participated in, winning its first in 2018, then ending as the runner-up in 2019 before a two-year break for the pandemic (CMS was ranked No. 1 in the nation and was undefeated at 14-0 with the top two singles players in the country at the time of the shutdown in 2020). The Athenas had no seniors on its NCAA roster this year, as they will be poised to continue their run of success next year.