Coming off a dominating run, winning 13 of their last 14 matches, and going undefeated in the Ivy League for the second consecutive year, the women’s tennis team came in with a full head of steam going into their 10th NCAA Tournament in school history. As the sole Ivy League representative, the 34th-ranked Tigers flew across the country to Seattle last weekend, defeating No. 27 Northwestern 4–1 and then falling to No. 10 University of Washington on their home court. The team’s 19 wins for the season ties for the second best in school history, and its victory over Northwestern marks their first tournament win since 2014.
Princeton’s regional matchup with Northwestern proved that, despite its extended break from play after the end of the Ivy season, its Ivy League-winning momentum was very much still there. The Tigers were able to jump out to a 1–0 lead thanks to the team’s performance in doubles. The sophomore combination of Nathalie Rodilosso and Stephanie Schrage won its doubles set 6–1, soon to be followed by the first-year/senior duo of Brianna Shvets and Nicole Kalhorn, who won 6–4.
Next came singles play, when Princeton was able to win three of their first four matches, clinching the win. The three wins came in Princeton’s 3/4/5 singles slots, where first-year Grace Joyce, junior Clare McKee, and senior Nicole Kalhorn all won in straight sets over their Northwestern opponents. This performance made it evident that despite the cross-country travel, the Tigers had no problem adapting to their new environment.
“I think everyone handled the long flight well,” Shvets said. “We were able to have a day to get a feel for the courts, so we were able to stick to our routine.”
Next came the tenth-ranked Washington Huskies, who handily defeated Army West Point 4–0 in their first-round match. Playing in Seattle against the top-ten ranked Huskies proved one of Princeton’s most challenging matches of the year, but a win was necessary if they were to advance to the third round. It seemed, however, that the Huskies had too much firepower for the Tigers to handle. Doubles play came down to the wire, but Schrage and Rodilosso fell just short in the deciding match, losing 5–7 in the tiebreaker after coming back from being down 5–3 in games.
“It’s being down in those big moments when sometimes you feel like the only option you have is to go for it — and that’s what brought us back into that doubles match. It was a disappointing loss but probably made me and my partner Nathalie even more motivated to get after it in singles,” Schrage said.
Down a point, Princeton had to win four of its next six matches — a tough task for any team, regardless of ranking. Washington was able to close out the match, winning three singles matches in straight sets and sending the Tigers home.
Despite its second-round exit, the Princeton women’s tennis team exceeded expectations in their 2018–19 season. On their way to an undefeated Ivy League season, the Tigers had four All-Ivy League honorees, and coach Laura Granville won her fourth Ivy League Coach of the Year title in the award’s five-year history.
With a relatively young team, the Tigers seem poised to make even deeper tournament runs in the coming years.
“We all want to continue to build on the momentum we created this year. We have more freshmen than usual coming in next year, and I know they’re going to be a strong addition to the team. I think those two things combined will put us in a great position next year, and if we keep putting in the work that got us to the second round of the tournament this year, next year we can go even further,” said Schrage.