WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – Tuesday, May 24th at 3:00 PM PST the Williams College women's tennis team (19-3) will line up in the NCAA Division III national quarterfinals in Claremont, CA, against host Claremont-Mudd -Scripps (C-M-S). Immediately following this match the Ephs and C-M-S will square off in the men's NCAA quarterfinals.
The Athenas of C-M-S sport a record of 21-3 and are currently ranked 12th in the nation. Alison Swain's Ephs are ranked second in the nation, but owning a 3-year string of NCAA titles they are the team everyone wants to beat. Swain's Ephs have won 14 of their last 15 matches this spring, while the Athenas have won three of their last four.
Williams left for California on Saturday afternoon after completing final exams and term papers. "Final exams definitely make preparation for NCAAs a challenge," Swain said. "The girls on the team made academics their priority this week. We practiced, but in many ways tennis practice was a time for them to take a break and de-stress."
The Ephs plan to practice Sunday and Monday in California. "We will have two days to practice in California," noted Swain. " Sunday we will adjust to the outdoors (since the week in Williamstown was so rainy) and the time change. Monday, we will hit on the competition courts and have a light day."
Williams has played C-M-S once before in the NCAA Tournament, downing the Athenas 5-3 in 1996. "C-M-S is a program that has really come into the spotlight this year," observed Swain. "They are young, but very talented. They beat Pomona twice this spring, which is traditionally a very strong program and they will be playing on their home courts. I expect them to come out in the match with a lot of energy and confidence."
"We haven't played many common opponents this spring. I believe the only one is Sewanee. Even though we don't know a lot about C-M-S as a team (the last time we played them was 2008, an 8-1 regular season Eph win), it is sometimes more exciting to play an unknown team rather than one you have a long history with. I think we are looking forward to that opportunity."
The Ephs will battle not only the host team on Tuesday, but also the high expectations that go with having won the last three NCAA titles. "It's important for us to draw on our experience and supportive, high energy team atmosphere," stressed Swain. "It is easy to feel the pressure of the moment in the NCAA tournament, but if we focus on what can control, on the hard work and trust we have in one another then I think we can take pressure off our shoulders and enjoy the moment of competition."
The Ephs will definitely have experience on their side as only one team member in this year's lineup has not played in the national quarterfinals and on at least one NCAA championship team – first year Kathleen Elkins at #4 singles.
"Our three senior captains, Nikki Reich, Lucy Marchese and Katie Friedman, are really tremendous leaders," Swain commented. "They have put their heart into this program over the past four years and bring an unparalleled level of competitive maturity and experience to the court. These three women know how to compete their best under pressure and help lead our team to do the same. I'm excited to have them out on court, and I have a tremendous amount of faith in their abilities, as do their teammates."
Should the Ephs win the title this year they will tie Emory University (also in the quarterfinals) for most consecutive titles and take the all-time lead in titles 6-5 over Emory, but as Swain knows there is a long way to go before and if there is a championship match on Thursday for Williams.
"It's not something we talk about," Swain remarked. "We aren't chasing records here. We make a concerted effort to focus on our team and our side of the court, so to speak. Right now, we are focusing all our efforts on a quarterfinal match up against C-M-S. If we are still competing after Tuesday, then we will continue to focus on one day and one match at a time. It's really important that we don't get ahead of ourselves because at this point, any one of the eight teams in the tournament is capable of winning the championship."
Swain knows of what she speaks having played doubles on the first Eph team to win the NCAA title in 2001 and having guided the last three Eph teams to the NCAA crown, compiling an NCAA Tournament record of 17-0 heading into the C-M-S match.
"Our team has two huge strengths that we bring to competition," offered Swain. "First is our experience competing under pressure -- there is a reason we play one of the toughest schedules in Division III tennis every year and we have faced a lot of tough competition this year. We haven't always come out on top, but we have always continued to work hard and improve. I think another strength of ours is our team culture. We are a team battling together on court; it's not about individual matches for us and the girls really feel that support everyday. More than anything, they want to do their best for the person on court beside them."
Overall in 18 straight NCAA Tournament the Ephs have posted the most wins 50, against 13 losses for a winning percentage of .794.