This past weekend, the Princeton women’s tennis team dominated three Ivy League opponents — Cornell, Columbia, and Harvard — en route to winning the Eastern Collegiate Athletic (ECAC) Indoor Championship.
In a display of high-level tennis, all three matches finished 4–0, with the Tigers finding success in both the singles and doubles matches.
The result was a great turnaround for a team that had struggled to start the year. Despite most of their matchups being closely fought and often decided by the final singles match, the Tigers were on a tough six-game losing streak coming into the tournament.
“We had a tough start to the season, so we came into ECAC Indoors with a lot of ambition and motivation,” sophomore Maia Sung told The Daily Princetonian.
The first match at the tournament against Cornell commenced with the Tigers earning a crucial doubles point, winning two out of the three double sets courtesy of Sung and partner junior Grace Joyce, as well sophomores Zoe Howard and partner Neha Velaga.
Velaga also won her No. 3 singles match with a commanding 6–1, 6–0 result, followed by senior Stephanie Schrage, who defeated her No. 5 singles opponent 6–0, 6–2. Lastly, Sung closed out her No. 6 singles match 6–3, 6–2, giving the Tigers an unassailable 4–0 lead.
Even with such an incredible victory, there were challenges during the tournament that the team had to overcome.
“We had a couple of injuries and [illnesses], so we had a bunch of people playing that didn’t expect to play,” Sung noted.
“I was a little nervous going into the Cornell match since it was a last-minute decision for the line-up change,“ newly-promoted No.1 singles player and first-year Victoria Hu told the ‘Prince.’ “It took me a bit to settle in, but I knew my teammates had my back.”
The semi-final match against Columbia was especially important to the Tigers, given their history with the Columbia Lions.
“Our team lost to Columbia in the previous ECAC finals, but I think that brought more energy from us,” Hu explained.
The match started with both doubles pairs Sung/Joyce and Howard/Velaga earning the Tigers the doubles point. Schrage then won her No. 5 singles match with a 6–0, 6–1 scoreline.
Hu’s match wasn’t as one-sided. She closed out her match with a second-set tiebreak, winning 6–2, 7–6(4). Senior Brianna Shvets saw similar struggles, as she had to bounce back from a first-set loss to win her No. 2 singles match 4–6, 6–2, 6–2, ultimately securing the 4–0 win for Princeton.
“[The two wins] brought the team a huge boost of confidence, so we were ready to play Harvard,” Hu said.
The final match against Harvard started with the Crimson winning the first doubles set, on track to win the crucial final point. However, the Tigers fought back, winning the other two doubles sets courtesy of Sung/Joyce and Shvets and senior partner Nathalie Rodilosso.
Sung reflected on the importance of the doubles point, saying, “It’s a point on the board which certainly helps the singles players’ confidence. It makes you feel better and less stressed.”
The top three singles then closed out their matches with Velaga, Shvets, and Hu all claiming victory over their opponents, clinching the title.
Players explained that the team’s success at the ECAC Championships, despite a less than ideal start to the season, has brought the team nothing but pride and momentum for upcoming matches.
“This win definitely felt sweeter after the close losses in the beginning of the season. Our goal is peaking when we play the Ivies, so this is a really good confidence and momentum booster going forward,” Hu said. “The earlier losses really tested us and brought us closer together as a team which is really important for our future matches.”
The Tigers move on to their next two away matches against Michigan the coming Sunday, followed by San Diego State on March 7. But before they step back onto the tennis courts with their game faces on, the team is excited to relish in this victory.
“We played ‘Eye of the Tiger’ loudly at the tennis center and blasted songs throughout the bus ride home,” Sung said. “Having a tough start to the season doesn’t dictate the season whatsoever.”
“I kept on saying this during our lowest moments,“ she continued. “This is our coming of age moment and we found a way out of this.”
Vedant Shah is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @VedantS67190694.