Women’s Tennis, Boehm Confident after 4–1 Spring Trip

By ANDREW RIGAS

The women’s tennis team entered its spring break trip with a 3–0 record after dominating its first three opponents, defeating Tufts 6–3, Colby 9–0, and St. Lawrence 9–0. After continuing its undefeated run in its first three matches in California, No. 5 Middlebury lost for the first time in a 7–2 defeat to No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) on Friday, March 30. But the Panthers rebounded against their former coach, Mike Morgan, and his new team, No. 7 Pomona-Pitzer, with a 7–2 victory on Saturday, March 31, to end the West Coast swing on a high note.

They left the Golden State with a 7–1 record and have set their sights on returning to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps this May for the NCAA tournament, confident despite their first loss of the season.

“We are very excited to continue our season and are hoping that we will be back in California for the NCAA national tournament,” said the team’s No. 1, Katy Hughes ’20, after returning to campus.

A return to Claremont in May is a long ways off, but Middlebury knows the preparation needed to reach that point comes in every moment up until then, and the Panthers are convinced their spring trip will go a long way to achieving that goal. Heather Boehm ’20, one of Middlebury’s regulars in both the singles and doubles lineups, says that she and her teammates returned to Middlebury “closer than ever,” after using the trip to bond as a team.

“We play our best when we feel connected off the court,” said Boehm, after returning to campus from California. “We have more trust in each other than we have ever had, and have learned how much stronger we are together. Even though it is mostly an individual sport, we cannot win alone.”

On the court in California, Middlebury played outside for the first time in 2018 when they faced off with Grossmont on Sunday, March 25. The Panthers had no problem shutting out the Griffins, surrendering only two of 98 games on their way to a 9–0 victory.

The Panthers next travelled to Azusa Pacific to do battle with Cougars, the No. 13-ranked team in the DII polls, on Monday, March 26. Although Middlebury hails from a lower division, the Panthers came out on top with a 7–2 victory. While the Panthers lost individual matches to the Cougars, one in singles and one in doubles, their 7–2 win came in comfortable fashion.

After off-days Tuesday and Wednesday, Middlebury met up with Westmont at Pomona-Pitzer on Thursday, March 29. The Panthers shut out the Warriors 9–0, including dominant wins from two first-years. Emily Bian ’21 won 6–2, 6–1 in the fifth spot, and Ann Martin Skelly ’21 won 6–0, 6–0 at No. 6.

But the going got much tougher for Middlebury the next day, when the Panthers faced off with CMS, who is ranked third nationally. The Athenas entered Friday’s matchup with a 16–2 record, and their only losses came against the reigning NCAA champs, Williams, and last year’s runners-up, Emory.

CMS handed Middlebury its first loss of 2018, as the Panthers fell 7–2. Boehm and Maddi Stow ’20 won Middlebury’s only matches, with Boehm sweeping Caroline Cox 6–3, 6–3 in the No. 4 spot and Stow outlasting Jessie Cruz 7–5, 1–6, 10–8 in the sixth slot.

Unlike many of Middlebury’s matches that they won in dominating fashion, every Panther won several games against CMS, even in defeat.

“Even though we lost to Claremont, every match was close, and with a few more points here and there it could have been an entirely different match,” Boehm said with optimism and confidence in her team.

The Panthers needed to get past their first loss of the 2018 campaign quickly, especially because their next opponent provided another tough test. When they faced Pomona-Pitzer the very next day, they not only went up against the No. 7 team in the country, but they also went up against their former coach, Mike Morgan. Morgan left Middlebury before the fall season began to become the head coach at Pomona-Pitzer.

“It was really great to be able to see our former coach Mike Morgan. He is such a wonderful coach and is doing fabulous things at Pomona,” said Hughes. “He made such an impact on not only each of our tennis games, but more importantly on an individual level. The women’s tennis team will forever remember his contribution to shaping our program.”

While this made for a matchup full of emotion, Middlebury got back on track, defeating the Sagehens 7–2 to cap off spring break and return east to jump into Nescac play with a 7–1 record.

Boehm capped off a fantastic week by beating Summer Garrison 6–0, 6–3 at No. 3. She also paired with Christina Puccinelli ’19 to win 8–4 in No. 3 doubles. Boehm was Middlebury’s only player to play singles in all five matches and win in all five. She also did so without losing a single set, playing in the second, third and fourth singles spots.

Boehm believes her success thus far arises from her fitness, which has been a focus for the entire team in practices.

“The key to my success has been my fitness,” said Boehm. “We have really been working on maintaining that first explosive move throughout the entire match by mixing in different sprints during practice throughout the week. Knowing that I can outlast our opponents definitely gives all of us confidence that we can close out our matches.”

Besides her individual success, Boehm has experienced a rapid rise in doubles, after not making the top-four doubles spot in her first year at Middlebury. She and Puccinelli won four of their five doubles matches in the third spot on the spring trip, and are 7–1 so far this spring.

“Christina has taught me a lot about strategy and has helped me gain confidence playing in third doubles,” Boehm said.

After their loss to Claremont No. 3 pair, Boehm and Puccinelli know what they “need to buckle down on at practice this week.”

Even with Middlebury’s loss to CMS, Hughes was very pleased with Middlebury’s performance in California.

“I am beyond proud of us all,” Hughes said, who went 3–2 in singles and 3–2 in the first doubles slot, paired Skylar Schossberger ’20, in California. “We have worked so hard this year and to see it come together was truly amazing. Everyone competed so hard and played with such grace and integrity.”

After feeling the sting of defeat against CMS, the Panthers’ minds have turned to the practice courts, where they believe their hopes of avenging their loss lie.

“Although it was a tough loss, we are definitely determined to train harder than we have ever trained before to get to that next level,” said Boehm. “We want to get the W next time if we see Claremont again at NCAAs.”

Now, Middlebury turns to the thick of its Nescac schedule, including a showdown with Williams in Williamstown, Massachusetts, two days from now on Saturday, April 7. The Ephs have won eight of the last 10 NCAA championships, including last season’s. In 2017, Middlebury beat Williams in their regular season match then lost to them twice in the postseason: in the Nescac championship match, and in the NCAA semifinals. After winning 6–3 and losing 5–2 in the first two matchups, the Panthers were one win away from defeating Williams in the NCAA semifinals, holding a 4–1 lead, but lost the last four matches as victory slipped away.

In the print edition, this story stated Middlebury lost to Williams all three times in 2017.

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Women’s Tennis, Boehm Confident after 4–1 Spring Trip