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August 18, 2014

2014 Summary: No. 18 Redlands Women’s Tennis Battles among the Best in Exciting Campaign

Equipped with a national ranking, two All-Americans, and plenty of Bulldog spirit, the University of Redlands women's tennis team battled through a challenging season that led to a 13-10 overall record against some of the best opponents in all of NCAA Division III.  The Maroon and Gray also rallied for a 7-4 mark in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) competition, resulting in a third-place effort at the tournament and a fourth-place overall finish.  

While immediately jumping into conference competition, the Bulldogs wasted no time in grabbing that inaugural win of the campaign with a 6-3 decision over an improved squad from Chapman University.  Leading 3-2 midway through the match, Redlands relied on junior Julia Pollak (Holland, PA) to close out her three-setter by scores of 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 at No. 4, before sophomore Gabriela Vasquez (Rancho Santa Margarita, CA) clinched the Bulldog triumph with her 6-1, 2-6, 6-3 performance at No. 5.

A week later, the Bulldogs knocked off No. 24 Brandeis University (MA) in a seemingly close, 5-4 win.  Despite playing without top singles player and captain, senior Jessica Ly (Torrance, CA), the Maroon and Gray earned the first five points of the match to secure the team victory.  Freshman Stephany Yang (Taipei, Taiwan) stepped in the doubles lineup for her sidelined teammate and joined junior Ceara Sumida (Hilo, HI) at the No. 3 slot.  The newly-formed duo cruised to an 8-3 victory as part of the Bulldogs' doubles sweep, helping the squad to establish a significant amount of momentum for the singles matches.

In late February, the women's tennis team made the program's first-ever appearance at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Division III National Women's Indoor Championship, hosted by DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.  The Bulldogs joined seven other nationally-ranked teams, all of which were among the top 15 in the country. 

Following a closely-contested 4-5 loss to familiar conference foe, Pomona-Pitzer Colleges, the Maroon and Gray rallied for a 6-3 victory over UC Santa Cruz in the second round of the ITA Indoor Tournament.  After leading 2-1 in the doubles, Redlands won three of the first four singles matches to secure the overall triumph against the Banana Slugs.  The No. 3 doubles duo of Vasquez and sophomore Lauren Villanueva (El Segundo, CA) initiated the scoring for the Bulldogs by blowing by their opponents, 8-1.  Sophomore Natalie Etchegaray (Placentia, CA), Ly, senior Paige Press (La Jolla, CA), and Villanueva all recorded straight-set wins in singles.

In a difficult finish to the Bulldogs' inaugural appearance at the elite event, the squad suffered a 1-8 loss to Washington University (MO) in the fifth-place match.  Redlands fell behind early after earning only one of the doubles points. The No. 1 tandem of Ly and Sumida provided the highlight of the match by unleashing an impressive 8-2 result for the Bulldogs.

Throughout the remainder of the month of March, Redlands faced a high-caliber slate of opponents that included six teams among the top 15 in the nation and two others ranked in the top 30.  The Bulldogs mustered four wins during this demanding stretch of matches, highlighted by 6-3 decisions over No. 23 Trinity University (TX) and No. 21 University of Mary Washington (VA).  Leading 4-2 against Trinity, Redlands sealed the important regional victory with Sumida's comeback performance that saw her rattle off 10-straight games to prevail by scores of 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 at No. 4.  While capitalizing on a 3-0 lead after the doubles, the Bulldogs looked to Nos. 4, 5, and 6 to step up in singles for the important win over Mary Washington.

Furthermore, one of Redlands' four wins in March came in the form of an important SCIAC triumph over Occidental College.  The Bulldogs took care of business in impressive fashion, dominating the Tigers in a 9-0 sweep while shutting them out in 10 sets.

After being stunned by a greatly-improved squad from the University of La Verne, the Bulldogs rattled off four key wins to finish out the dual-match portion of the regular season.  In addition, Redlands put its stamp on these results with 9-0 scores over Cal Lutheran University, Whittier College, and Caltech, before producing the same outcome against UC Santa Cruz on Senior Day.   The Bulldogs celebrated Ly and Press in fine fashion with a solid in-region win over the Banana Slugs in the duo's final home competition on Verdieck Courts.  Redlands gained the early momentum with another doubles sweep, before winning all six singles matches.  Villanueva and Vasquez set the tone with their 8-1 victory at No. 3, while Etchegaray and Pollak quickly followed suit by taking down their No. 2 opponents, 8-2.  In dramatic fashion, the top Bulldog tandem of Ly and Sumida preserved the shutout by rallying back from a break down to capture the 9-7 win.

As the fourth seed, Redlands entered the SCIAC Championship Tournament with a must-win situation against fifth-seeded Chapman.  With a 2-1 lead after the doubles, the Bulldogs gained a solid singles performance from freshman Emily Murnin (Salt Lake City, UT), who blanked her No. 5 foe.  The momentum stayed with the Maroon and Gray as Ly and Etchegaray collected straight-set wins at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, thus securing the Bulldogs' deciding points. 

Later that afternoon, Redlands battled it out with the Athenas of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges.  While earning only one of the doubles points, the Maroon and Gray faced an early deficit and struggled to recover, falling by a score of 3-6.  Despite the loss, it was a clear improvement over the team's first encounter with the No. 5-ranked foes from down the road.  During the tournament match, the No. 2 doubles tandem of Etchegaray and Pollak continued to shine for the Maroon and Gray, capturing a hard-fought 9-7 win.  Murnin and Pollak stepped up with singles victories for the Bulldogs, with Pollak's performance coming in solid fashion at 6-4, 6-3.

While competing for third place in the tournament, Redlands avenged a pair of one-point losses to Pomona-Pitzer by rallying for a 7-2 victory over the sixth-ranked Sagehens.  After trailing 1-2 through the doubles matches, the Bulldogs stormed back with a singles sweep en route to the memorable triumph over their conference foes.  With an impressive 7-6(6), 6-1 effort at the No. 2 position, Etchegaray sealed the deal for Redlands' important and exciting win.

Although the team just missed out on qualifying for the NCAA Division III Championships, Redlands' Ly and Sumida represented the Bulldogs at the individual tournament.  Ly competed in singles and joined forces with Sumida as a formidable doubles duo at the premiere postseason event.  The tandem suffered an early exit from the event but repeated as ITA All-Americans by finishing the 2014 campaign as the eighth-ranked doubles team in the country. 

Ly and Etchegaray collected All-SCIAC First-Team recognition for their contributions during the conference season.  Ly became just the third Bulldog women's tennis player in Redlands history to garner First-Team status each season of her four-year career.   Etchegaray earned the honor for the second time in as many years.

Finally, Ly's impressive career was complete when she was named the 2014 West Region Senior Player of the Year by the ITA.

Academically, the women's tennis team gained five ITA Scholar-Athletes to go along with ITA All-Academic Team recognition for the squad as a whole.  After receiving the honor in 2012-13, sophomore Alyssa Gilbert (Mukilteo, WA) repeated as an ITA Scholar-Athlete for the Bulldogs.  She was joined by first-time recipients Sumida, Murnin, Yang, and freshman Chikako Suzuki (Musashino-shi, Tokyo).  This quintet represented Redlands among the more than 550 student-athletes that received this award from the ITA.

Furthermore, Etchegaray and Gilbert represented the Bulldogs on the SCIAC's All-Academic Women's Tennis Team, which honors returning competitors with a cumulative GPA of 3.4 or higher.

In addition, the Bulldog women's tennis team capped off another fine season as a nationally-ranked program, landing No. 18 in the final ITA Division III Poll.

Amidst exciting wins and plenty of accolades, Redlands women's tennis rallied for another successful season under the direction of Head Coach Geoff Roche.  Highlighted by a late-season push, the Bulldogs left it all on the courts and set the stage for future growth.  With the graduation of two key contributors in Ly and Press, the Bulldogs certainly have work to do but know that they return a viable group of competitors that possesses the desire and talent to step up.