The women's tennis team entered the season with the goal of winning the Ivy League. But nonetheless, questions remained about whether Princeton would be a legitimate contender. The Tigers finished 2-5 in the Ivies last season and remain a young squad this year. Princeton has used four sophomores and a freshman in the top six singles spots this season.
But coming into this weekend at 10-2 and with an undefeated Ivy record, the Tigers (12-2 overall, 4-0 Ivy League) have surprised the rest of the league. However, a true test of Princeton's chances at an Ivy crown came this weekend when the Tigers faced defending champion Brown and a Yale team than returned all its starters from last season.
Even Brown and Yale proved no match for Princeton, however, as the Tigers continued their strong play and extended their winning streak to 10, with impressive victories over Brown, 8-1, and Yale, 7-2. Princeton is currently ranked No. 43 in the country, its highest ranking since winning the Ivies back in 1994. The Tigers' four sophomores went 7-1 in singles matches this weekend.
"We definitely stepped up to the challenge and played great in both matches," junior No. 4 Olivia Streatfield said. "We know that we can do it if we work really hard."
But how does one explain the Tigers' rise in the standings? When did Princeton, which uses basically the same lineup as last year, transform from a middle-of-the-pack team into league contender?
"It began really at the end of last year," head coach Louise Gengler '75 said. "Last year we finished poorly in the standings, but we finished on a strong note. We've worked very hard and it's paid off."
"About halfway through last year, we started coming together," Streatfield said.
Against the Bears Friday, Princeton showed poise in winning three three-set matches en route to an 8-1 win. Both sophomore No. 1 Blair Farr and sophomore No. 2 Jyotsna Vasisht won the opening set, 6-4, in their singles matches, but then dropped the next, 1-6 and 3-6, respectively, before each took the final set, 6-2.
Streatfield trailed early in her singles match, relinquishing the first set 3-6, and then regrouping to take the next two 7-5, 6-4 over Brown's Lauren Muehl.
Playing at No. 6, senior Stephanie Alpert surrendered only three games in taking a 6-0, 6-3 win over the Bears' Shireen Naderi.
Saturday, Princeton faced a strong Yale team that returned everyone from last year's squad, plus added a couple of freshman to the mix. The Elis topped Princeton in a close 5-4 match last year.
"Yale was the one we were definitely worried about," Gengler said. "They were a little stronger than last year. It's the same team we lost to at home last year. We definitely wanted some revenge."
Farr led the way for the Tigers against the Elis, as she continued her undefeated Ivy singles season, downing the Elis' Somer Khanlarian 7-6, 6-0. Farr hasn't lost a singles match since Feb. 21, when she dropped a 6-4, 5-7 decision to Dartmouth's No. 1 Rebecca Dirksen in the Princeton Invitational.
"Blair's taking off," Gengler said.
Sophomore No. 3 Amanda Hastings Phillips continued her strong play over the weekend, winning both her singles matches in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3 over Brown's Leela Raju and 7-6, 6-3 over Cynthis Obshnik of Yale.
Sophomore No. 5 Lili Holodnak also defeated both of her weekend opponents in straight sets, winning 6-1, 6-3 over the Bears' Kirsten Odabashian and 7-6, 6-3 over Yale.
Although Princeton's overall goal is winning the Ivy title, its most immediate concern is sweeping in state opponents Rutgers and Seton Hall in its next two matches.