Women's tennis has its sights on an NCAA Championship

The women’s lacrosse team is one, having reached consecutive Final Fours, but the women’s tennis program reigns supreme.

Between 1998 and 2001, the Jeffs went to four consecutive Final Fours, and they also became the first team from Amherst to capture a national title when they beat Williams College in the 1999 finals. Last year was considered a disappointment, as the Jeffs lost in the Elite Eight of the National Tournament, but an influx of new talent in the fall, along with the maturation of existing players makes many believe that the Jeffs can win another title this spring.

“We had a great fall season and we hope to build on that and make a good run in Nationals again,” said Rachel Holt ’05.

Tennis is one of the few intercollegiate sports that competes in both fall and spring seasons. While the NCAA determines the national champion after the spring season, the fall season carries great importance. Last fall the Jeffs’ lone loss was to UMass, a Div. I opponent, and they beat two-time defending national champion and bitter rival Williams in both head-to-head competition and at the New England Championships.

This spring the Jeffs enter the season ranked third in the country, and they embark upon a difficult schedule right off the bat. After traveling to Claremont, Ca., the Jeffs will take on four difficult opponents, three from Div. III and one Div. I squad.

Amherst will begin the season in Claremont against Emory University, the top ranked Div III team in the nation. Pomona-Pitzer, ranked eighth, is next up, and will be followed by Div. I opponent California State University-Fullerton, to whom Amherst lost last year, 4-3. Amherst will round out the spring trip with a match against Claremont McKenna College, ranked 10th in the nation. The Jeffs faced all three of these Div. III teams last year, losing to Emory and Pomona while beating McKenna 7-2.

“This trip will be good for the team, because we will get to see some of the competition that will be at nationals,” said Holt.

Leading the way for the Jeffs this spring is a number of underclassmen. Kristen Raverta ’06 capped off an exceptional fall with the number one singles championship at New Englands. Over the course of the fall, Raverta lost only two matches-one against UMass and the other during the Omni ITA Championship Tournament. This spring she will again hold the top slot in the singles ladder.

Right behind her on the singles ladder is Holt. After a freshman year that was difficult to match-First Team All-American, National Co-Rookie of the Year, NESCAC Rookie of the Year among other honors-Holt continued to dominate during the fall. She came away with the individual title at the Omni ITA tournament and was runner-up in the second singles flight at New Englands, while only falling to her UMass opponent in team matches. Sliding into the third singles slot is Tristan Hedrick ’05. Hedrick, who teams with Holt to form the Jeffs’ top doubles team, also enjoyed a strong freshman season, which she built upon with a successful fall.

Although an injury to co-captain Paige Lawrence ’03 leaves the Jeffs without one of their top players during the beginning of the season, their depth becomes apparent as they have a number of options for the second half of the ladder. Wallis Molchen ’04, Erin Murphy ’05, Hadley Miller ’06 and co-captain Roopali Agarwal ’03 will fill the last three singles positions.

One of the Jeffs’ largest improvements in the fall was in doubles play. Often one of their weak points in the past-if they were weak in any category at all-this fall marked a turnaround in doubles play. At New Englands, the Jeffs swept the competition, taking the top spot in all three doubles flights. Although Lawrence’s injury disrupts the second team, where she was joined by Raverta, Miller is expected to fill her role at the beginning of the spring trip. Molchen and Murphy only began to play together midway through the fall season, but they have performed well in the third doubles slot.

Once the Jeffs return home from break they will have more challenges in front of them. After a three-week break, the Jeffs start their northern swing. Shaking off the rust of three weeks without competitive play will prove difficult with matches against Middlebury College and Tufts University, who should both challenge the Jeffs.

On the heels of these matches the Jeffs will head to the NESCAC Tournament, which will be held at Williams, where the Jeffs will look to end the dominance of the Ephs. The following weekend the Jeffs face the Ephs in head-to-head competition, before taking on Wellesley College in their final match of the season.

“As far as I’m concerned, all of our matches are big this year,” said Hedrick. “But, the Williams and Emory matches do stand out.”

After the regular season concludes, the Jeffs should once again return to the NCAA Tournament, which starts in early May.