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June 27, 2013

2013 Summary: Redlands Women’s Tennis Celebrates Banner Year with Multiple Milestones

With talented veterans and inspiring newcomers, the University of Redlands women's tennis team unleashed 15 consecutive wins to start the 2013 season before earning the best overall record in program history at 20-4.  The Bulldogs reached the 20-triumph mark for the first time and amassed an impressive win percentage of .800 en route to cracking the top 10 in the national rankings.  In addition, the Maroon and Gray returned to the NCAA Division III Championships after a two-year hiatus and advanced to the second round for an exciting finish to a stellar season.

After welcoming four freshmen to the roster, the Redlands women's tennis team constructed a top-notch line-up comprised of many returning competitors from a year ago.  Beyond the obvious experience within the group, the Bulldogs entered the season with high expectations and the necessary tools to go after their goals.

Equipped with a preseason ranking of No. 24, the Maroon and Gray opened the spring with a pair of 9-0 victories that set the stage for future success.

Redlands continued to roll with three consecutive 7-2 showings, including one over regional rival and 13th-ranked Trinity University (TX) on March 9.  While taking on the Tigers in a Saturday doubleheader, the Bulldogs looked to the top tandem of junior Jessica Ly (Torrance, CA) and sophomore Ceara Sumida (Hilo, HI) to initiate the scoring by dismissing the 12th-ranked doubles duo in an 8-2 decision.  After securing another doubles point, the Maroon and Gray continued to shine with three consecutive wins in singles, all of which came in straight sets.  Among the highlights, freshman Natalie Etchegaray (Placentia, CA) impressed at the No. 2 position with her 6-1, 6-1 performance.

By winning five of the first six matches off the court, the Bulldogs then upset No. 18 Sewanee (TN) by a score of 6-3 just three days later.  With steady contributions coming from junior Paige Press (La Jolla, CA), sophomore Maddie Morton (Henderson, NV), and sophomore Julia Pollak (Holland, PA) at Nos. 4, 5, and 6, respectively, Redlands remained perfect on the season at 7-0.  This also marked Head Coach Geoff Roche's 100th career win in women's tennis.

Now ranked No. 13 in the nation, the team's first true test of the campaign came at the UC Santa Cruz Tournament when it faced a trio of talented opponents on consecutive days.  After opening the event with an 8-1 showing against No. 16 Skidmore College (NY), the Bulldogs survived its tightest match of the season with a 5-4 triumph over No. 28 UC Santa Cruz in an important regional contest.  The Bulldogs looked to Ly to clinch the overall victory with her come-from-behind, three-setter at the No. 1 slot in singles.  With the match-score tied at four-all, Ly stepped up in a big way for the Maroon and Gray, mustering a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 showing for the deciding point. 

On March 17, the Bulldogs finished out the tournament with another 5-4 effort for their 10th victory in a row.  After a solid 2-1 start in doubles, the Bulldogs won the first three singles matches to secure the overall triumph against Whitman College (WA).   Once again, the team's depth shined, as Press, Pollak, and Morton each took care of business with two-set showings in their respective singles matches at Nos. 4, 5, and 6. 

Over the next two weeks, Redlands rattled off five more consecutive wins to improve to 15-0 on the season.  In addition to remaining undefeated in SCIAC competition with victories over Chapman University, Whittier College, and the University of La Verne, the Maroon and Gray stunned No. 8 DePauw University (IN) in a solid 6-3 performance on Verdieck Courts.  While leading 4-2, the Bulldogs needed just one of the remaining three singles matches to seal the deal on the upset.  Pollak was the first to step up for the Bulldogs, as she came off the No. 5 court with a 6-4, 6-2 performance.

On Senior Day, the 10th-ranked Redlands Bulldogs faced off against the No. 2 Athenas of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges, but the Maroon and Gray's impressive win streak came to an end with a closer-than-apparent 2-7 loss to the eventual SCIAC Champions.   The Bulldogs battled throughout the match but lost a slight edge in doubles on a tiebreak before suffering a pair of three-set defeats in singles.  One highlight to the match was that Pollak individually improved to 15-1 on the season with a comeback triumph over the No. 5 Athena by scores of 3-6, 6-1, 7-5. 

A week later, the Maroon and Gray quickly rebounded with a pair of same-day wins in conference competition, dismissing Caltech and Occidental College by a combined score of 17-1.

Playing on the road for the third consecutive time, the Bulldogs' final dual-match of the season came against the Sagehens of Pomona-Pitzer Colleges.  Despite sitting five spots ahead of its counterparts in the rankings at No. 9, Redlands faced an early deficit in doubles before struggling to recover in the singles competitions, which led to a 3-6 loss for only its second defeat of the 2013 campaign.

In late April, Redlands welcomed a change of pace to competition with the 113th Ojai Valley Tournament, where Etchegaray highlighted the Bulldogs' performances by winning her way into the semifinals for singles.  Furthermore, she and Pollak teamed up for a spot in the semifinals of doubles action.

On May 3, the Maroon and Gray opened the 2013 SCIAC Championship Tournament as the No. 3 seed with a first-round match against newcomer Chapman.  The team prevailed over the Panthers in a solid shutout performance, propelling the Bulldogs into the semifinal round against Pomona-Pitzer.  Faced with the chance to avenge an earlier loss to the Sagehens, the Maroon and Gray battled but came up short in a 2-7 loss. 

With unwavering determination, the Maroon and Gray moved onto the third-place match against La Verne and secured a 6-3 victory in solid fashion.  The Bulldogs took all three doubles points, with freshmen Lauren Villanueva (El Segundo, CA) and Gabriela Vasquez (Rancho Santa Margarita, CA) preserving the sweep with a hard-fought 9-7 win at No. 3.  The dynamic duo of Press and Pollak put this one in the books for the Bulldogs, as they both cruised to straight-set wins at Nos. 4 and 5.

For their contributions during the Bulldogs' 8-3 SCIAC season, Ly and Etchegaray garnered All-SCIAC First-Team honors, while Sumida landed on the Second Team.  This was Ly's third consecutive First-Team award and Sumida's back-to-back Second-Team accolade.

With a third-place finish among one of the toughest tennis conferences in the country, Head Coach Geoff Roche remained optimistic for an at-large berth to the NCAA Championships.  On May 6, the postseason announcement included the Bulldogs for their 10th trip to the tournament since 2000 and their first since 2010. 

Redlands made the short jaunt to Claremont to face Whitman for the second time this season, following the Bulldogs' 5-4 performance back in mid-March.  This time, the team left little doubt, as it silenced the Missionaries with a 5-0 decision.  The Bulldogs created great momentum by winning all three doubles matches before earning a pair of straight-set showings in singles to secure a spot in the second round.   Among the highlights, Morton and Vasquez teamed up at the No. 3 slot to provide an incredible comeback performance, before Ly and Sumida came up with a huge tiebreak victory at No. 1.  In singles, Morton continued to impress by knocking off her No. 5 opponent in fine fashion, 6-0, 6-0, while Sumida officially sealed the win for the Maroon and Gray with her 6-2, 6-1 triumph at the No. 3 position.

With the team's record-setting, 20th victory in hand, Redlands moved onto the second round of the NCAA Championships to face familiar foe Pomona-Pitzer.  Hoping that the third time would indeed be the charm, the Bulldogs came out firing in doubles to take a 2-1 lead with a pair of 8-3 victories at Nos. 1 and 2.  Unfortunately, the momentum stopped there, as the Sagehens answered back with impressive play in singles, which led to a 2-5 loss for the Maroon and Gray.

The Bulldogs later learned that Ly and Sumida were selected only as alternates to the NCAA Division III Doubles Championships, with their 21-4 record somehow not matching up to the committee's criteria.

However, Ly was named the ITA West Region Player to Watch and later was recognized as the ITA National Player to Watch, as the first in Bulldog women's tennis history.  She was joined by Bulldog sophomore Patrick Lipscomb (Irvine, CA), who was named the men's recipient of these outstanding awards.

Among a record-breaking and impressive campaign, the Redlands women's tennis team finished the 2013 season with a final national ranking of 11th, which both acknowledges the Bulldogs' overall success and their well-deserved respect among the tennis community.  Although the Maroon and Gray must say goodbye to an incredibly dedicated senior in Claudia Llanes (Miami, FL), the squad looks forward to the return of a talented list of contributors who all played a role in this memorable season.  With Coach Roche leading the way, the team boasts the tools and desire to build upon this year's exciting season for yet another remarkable campaign that complements the program's growing history.