The women’s tennis team extended its winning streak to five matches by winning all three in a successful trip to Connecticut from Friday to Sunday, April 20 to 22. No. 4 Middlebury knocked off DI opponent Quinnipiac 4–3 on Friday, dismissed Trinity 9–0 on Saturday, and upended No. 5 Wesleyan in a crucial match for Nescac seeding on Sunday, even though the Cardinals boast the three-time defending NCAA singles champion, Eudice Chong, who also won the doubles title with Victoria Yu last season.
Middlebury lost to Chong and Yu at first doubles and first and second singles, but the Panthers took every other match to hand Wesleyan its second loss in the conference.
With the victory, the Panthers clinched the second seed in the Nescac playoffs no matter what happens in their last match of the regular season at Amherst this Saturday, because they beat Wesleyan and Tufts, the two teams that are one game behind Middlebury in the standings.
Quinnipiac posed a unique challenge for Middlebury in the Panthers’ first match in Connecticut on Friday. Facing a Division I opponent, they played by DI rules, meaning whichever team won more of the doubles pro-sets to six games won the singles doubles point — singles is not different, so the match was out of seven points. And, of course, any Division I opponent will be a challenge.
The Bobcats took two out of the three doubles matches to earn the doubles point, as Heather Boehm ’20 and Ann Martin Skelly ’21 won 6–3 in the second slot for Middlebury’s only doubles victory.
But Middlebury bounced back when Catherine Blazye ’20, at No. 3, and Katy Hughes ’20, at No. 2, won the first two singles matches in straight sets to put Middlebury ahead. Quinnipiac tied the match at two, then Molly Paradies ’19 rebounded from losing 6–7 in the first set to take the next two sets 6–0, 6–2 and give Middlebury the lead back. Once more, the Bobcats answered back in the sixth slot to tie the match at three.
In the deciding match, Skylar Schossberger ’21 won the first set 6–3, lost the second 5–7, then took the third 6–3, securing a 4–3 victory for Middlebury over the hosts.
Saturday’s match at Trinity was Middlebury’s easiest of the weekend. The Panthers shut out the Bantams, winning 96 of 111 games in the process.
And Sunday’s matchup at Wesleyan held great intrigue for a couple of reasons: both teams entered with one loss in the Nescac, and Middlebury is ranked fourth nationally while Wesleyan is fifth.
Doubles play went back and forth. Boehm and Skelly quickly beat their opponents 8–2 in the third slot, but the defending NCAA doubles champions, Chong and Yu, outlasted Schossberger and Hughes in the first to win 8–5 and tie the match.
“Wesleyan’s number-one doubles team is very strong,” said Middlebury head coach Rachel Kahan. “Williams was able to push past them in a close one a few weeks ago, so I believe they are beatable.”
Even in defeat, Middlebury’s top pair demonstrated they could compete with one of the best doubles teams in the country, and Kahan wants her pair to play Chong and Yu again.
“Katy and Sky competed very well and learned a lot from the match, and we hope to get another chance to play them this season.”
Blazye and Maddi Stow ’20 made sure Middlebury led entering singles by defeating their opponents 8–2 at No. 2.
Chong swept Christina Puccinelli ’19 in first singles to tie the match at two. Saturday was Chong’s birthday — as if she was not tough enough already, playing against the senior on her birthday was probably impossible.
The Panthers slowly but steadily pulled away from the Cardinals after that. Schossberger in the fifth slot and Blazye in the fourth won in straight sets before Yu beat Hughes at No. 2.
Middlebury led 4–3 with two matches to go — Boehm’s at No. 3 and Stow’s at No. 6. Stow finished first when she beat Zoe Klass-Warch 6–0, 6–3 to clinch the match for Middlebury. Sunday was Stow’s birthday as well, and she got to seal Middlebury’s victory with her second win of the day and fourth of the weekend.
Stow stayed undefeated in singles this spring with her two wins over the weekend, extending her unbeaten streak to 10 matches. She is emblematic of Middlebury’s remarkable depth throughout their roster, which proved to be one of their keys to victory against Wesleyan and in every match in Connecticut.
All nine players have won matches this spring, and the Panthers won matches in every doubles and singles slot this weekend.
“I do believe we have strong depth on our team this year,” said head coach Rachel Kahan. “It is great as a coach to feel that I can put any of my nine players in the lineup and feel confident that they will compete well.”
Another example of Middlebury’s depth is Skelly, who stepped into the doubles lineup in the middle of the season to pair with Boehm. They have won all five of their matches together, each of them by three games or more.
“We’ve been playing really great together and are thrilled with our five-match winning streak,” said Skelly. “I think that our games really complement each other, and we feed well off each other’s energy. We have been focused, and our coaches have worked with us a lot on different strategies that we’ve been seeing a lot of success in.”
Middlebury will travel to Amherst on Saturday, April 28, to face off with the Mammoths in their final match of the regular season. Then the Panthers will turn to Nescacs the following weekend, when they will venture to Amherst again for the playoffs from Friday to Sunday, May 4 to 6.