For the third consecutive year, Emory University and Williams College (Mass.) met at the NCAA Division III Women’s Tennis National Championship tournament final, playing neck and neck and finishing with a 5-4 result.
Last year, Emory came out on top. This year, Williams reclaimed the throne May 24, securing the program’s 10th national championship. Despite dropping only three of the team’s 24 matches in the tournament’s first four rounds, Emory surrendered five to Williams Wednesday at The McCallie School (Tenn.) and settled for the runner-up trophy.
Following the team competition, the individual singles and doubles tournaments ran May 25-27. In singles, senior Michelle Satterfield advanced to the quarterfinals while junior Bridget Harding reached the semifinals. Harding and senior Katarina Su paired to make a run in the doubles competition but fell flat in the tournament semifinals.
With Emory ranked No. 3 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) and Williams No. 4, it seemed safe to anticipate a tight contest in the team tournament final. Add the fact that Emory and Williams have won 16 of the past 17 national championships, and those two heavyweight programs were set on a dangerous collision course.
“There is a lot of mutual respect between the two programs,” Emory Head Coach Amy Bryant said. “When you go to the finals, you want to play against the best and you want it to be a battle.”
Williams took the edge in doubles play, garnering an early 2-0 lead through second and third doubles. Harding and Su responded in first doubles with a narrow 9-7 victory over Williams junior Juli Raventos and senior Linda Shin, trimming Williams’ lead to one.
“[Su and I] were down four match points, but we ended up saving those and breaking twice to get us that 1-2 [score] and not go down three points, which was important,” Harding said.
In singles play, senior Paula Castro evened the contest at two all with a win in sixth singles. Senior Melissa Goodman fell just short in fifth singles, but sophomore Daniela Lopez and Su responded in third and fourth singles, respectively, to give Emory its first lead of the day, 4-3.
“I knew it was going to be a tight match, but I was able to stick to my game plan,” Lopez said. “I knew what I needed to do, and I was focused on playing my best and the result just came along with that.”
With first and second singles remaining, the Eagles needed just one point to secure the title. Satterfield kept the score close in second singles, but couldn’t take a set from Williams sophomore Leah Bush in a 7-6, 6-2 defeat.
Tied at four apiece, the outcome of the first singles match between ITA No. 1 Harding and No. 2 Raventos would decide the championship.
Harding dominated the first set 6-1, but momentum swung to Raventos in the second and third sets. Winning 6-3, 6-2 to close the match, Raventos came back from a set down to claim first singles and a team national title for Williams College.
“She is a great player and it’s always going to be tough walking onto the court against her, especially in a national championship match like that,” Harding said. “I feel like I played well, but being that the team ended up losing the championship, that’s kind of tough.”
The Eagles’ tone following the final was subdued. Disappointment at what could have been hit the team hard, but there was no sense of frustration or regret.
“We gave it our all,” Bryant said. “The focus of the girls was just unbelievable. I thought we got as much as we could out of everybody.”
The road to the team tournament final was winding, but there was little time to relax before the individual competitions. Beginning May 25, Satterfield and Harding competed in singles while Harding and Su paired up in the doubles competition.
With wins in the first two rounds, Harding hit a wall in the tournament semifinals in the form of Wesleyan University (Conn.) junior Eudice Chong, falling in straight sets 6-2, 6-0. Chong went on to win the tournament, making it three consecutive singles title for the Wesleyan junior. Satterfield met a similar fate in the tournament’s quarterfinals, succumbing to Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.) senior Rebecca Ho.
“I knew that match was going to be tough, but leading up to it, I was playing some of the best tennis I had played all year, so it was nice to finish on that note,” Harding said.
In the doubles competition, Harding and Su advanced to the semifinals. Matching up against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps freshman Nicole Tan and junior Lindsay Brown, the Emory duo lost in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5.
After the tournament, Lopez reflected on the Eagles’ accomplishments this season. She explained that this team always competes with tremendous confidence — to leave somewhat empty handed is a tough pill to swallow, but taking a broader perspective on the year helps ease that disappointment.
“Throughout the whole entire tournament you were able to see our improvement from the beginning [of the year],” Lopez said. “We played as a team … everyone was pushing each other to do their best.
With the season officially at its end, the Eagles graduate five seniors: Katarina Su, Michelle Satterfield, Michelle DeMeo, Paula Castro and Melissa Goodman. The Eagles finished their year as national runner-ups with a 17-7 season record.