ST. PETER, Minn. - In a rematch from last year's ITA National Division III Women's Team Indoor Championship, the 2011 title would ultimately be decided by a showdown at No. 6 singles. Behind the racquet of Emory's Laura Cavalla, who had not previously taken court until the two teams were knotted up 4-4 on the final day, with everything on the line and everyone watching intently, top-seeded Emory prevailed, capturing their second straight title, once again knocking off conference rivals, University of Chicago.
Emory has now reached the ITA Team Indoor finals in all three years since the tournament commenced, having reached 2009's inaugural tournament final, in which they were stunned by an upstart Carnegie Mellon team that knocked off three of the top seeds in as many days.
Even though Chicago Head Coach Marty Perry, who has been named the Wilson/ITA Division III Women's Coach of the Year for the past two seasons, has done a magnificent job of closing the gap between Emory and the rest of the UAA. The Eagles continue to be the elite team in one of the nation's toughest conferences, currently riding a streak of 23 consecutive UAA titles.
The third-annual event returned to Gustavus Adolphus after hosting the inaugural championship just two years ago.
ITA Division III National Women's Team Indoor Championship: Finals
#1 Emory 5, No. 2 U. of Chicago 4
ITA Division III National Women's Team Indoor Championship: Semifinals
#1 Emory 7, #5 Carnegie Mellon 2
#2 U. of Chicago 7, #3 Denison 2
ITA Division III National Women's Team Indoor Championship: First Round
#1 Emory 8, #8 DePauw 1
#5 Carnegie Mellon 7, #4 Gustavus Adolphus 2
#3 Denison 6, #6 Washington & Lee 3
#2 U. of Chicago 8, #7 Chapman 1
The doubles play would open the match and would be crucial to the University of Chicago in their pursuit in knocking off the defending champs. U of C, who is perennially one of the most competitive squads in doubles play, came into today's match having won every doubles point of the tournament and had only dropped one point all year, in a tie-breaker against Division I squad Ball State, which they would impressively go on to win, 4-3.
For the second straight day,Emory's third doubles team, consisting of a pair of freshmen Malavika Padmanabhan and Brenna Kelly, picked up the matches first point. U of C knew they would
need to ride their championship No. 1 doubles team of Kendra Higgins and Chrissy Hu. The duo already has a pair of national titles under their belt, having been crowned champions in both the NCAA Division III Championships and the USTA/ITA National Small College Championships. Despite facing stiff competition from Emory's top two singles players, Gabrielle Clark and Jordan Wiley, Higgins and Hu posted an 8-4 victory to get the Maroons on the board.
With both teams lined up cheering on their teammates a No. 2 doubles, the match that had both sides going up and down, the score became knotted at seven apiece. As if there was no pressure at all, Linden Li and Carmen Vaca Guzman remained calm and closed out one of the nation's top-ranked duos in Lorne McManigle and Zahra Dawson, giving Chicago the much-needed lead heading into singles.
The matches on courts No. 1 and No. 2 moved swiftly, with the day's dominating play coming from Emory's Gabrielle Clark and Chicago's Jennifer Kung, both of whom won easily in straight sets. Clark entered this season as one of the top freshman in the nation. Listed as a four-star recruit by TennisRecruiting.net, she was ranked as the 106th-best player in the nation in her class, and the ninth-best player in Illinois.
Kung, who won the 2008 ITA National Small College Singles title as a freshman, has moved up and down UC's lineup in the past couple of seasons, playing No. 1, 2 and 3 singles. Displaying the strength of both squads, the Maroons were not the only squad to sport a former national champion playing at No. 3 in their lineup. Emory's Lorne McManigle was the 2009 NCAA Division III Singles Champion, finishing the year ranked No. 1 in the Campbell/ITA College Tennis Rankings and was a member of the 2009 ITA All-Star Team.
However, the win would not come so easily for McManigle, who had been a little inconsistent throughout the tournament. After McManigle quickly jumped out 3-0, Vaca Guzman refused to go away and even took a 6-5 lead before finally being shut down in a tie-breaker that McManigle would end up toughing out. Guzman fired back, quickly capturing the second set but seemed to run out of gas in the third set as McManigle picked up her play and closed out her opponent, arguably playing her best tennis at the end of the grueling three-set match.
Almost simultaneously, Emory would go from being down 3-2 to finding themselves with a 4-3 advantage as Padmanabhan continued to provide consistent play throughout the tournament, registering a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Hu at No. 5 singles.
Immediately, everyone's focus was drawn to the battle between Dawson and Li at the four spot. While the other matches were providing their own bit of drama, the momentum in the match between the two was swinging back and forth like a pendulum. Li struck first with a 6-3 first set, quickly responded by Dawson's 6-1 second set. This led to a thrilling final set in which Li raced out to a 5-2 lead, looking like she would boost the Maroons back to a tie at any moment. However, Dawson, with her back against the wall, won the next three points, pushing the final set to 5-5. But the always-animated Li got her teammates on their feet and willed herself to victory, leaving the match in the hands of Laura Callava (Emory) and Aswini Krishnan (Chicago).
The two had completely different experiences throughout the tournament, heading into this deciding match. With the Maroons clinching their semifinal over Denison early, Coach Perry decided to pull Chrissy Hu at the five spot, who had been battling through injury. This allowed Krishnan to get experience playing against tougher competition higher in the lineup. Though giving her best effort, Krishnan would up losing in straight sets but could come away learning from the experience.
Cavalla on the other hand, had previously not taken court during the first two days but remained poised through warm-ups after she found out she would be replacing Taylor Zant, who had previously lost her last two matches at No. 6 singles. Whether she gained confidence from her teammates and fans cheering her on or whether she was simply capitalizing on her moment to shine, Cavalla left no doubt that Emory had withstood the challenge from Chicago in defending their crown.
"Everyone here is the best of the best and great opportunity to face some very good competition, but obviously we wanted to come here and win", said Higgins. "But this was a great learning experience for us to find out what we need to accomplish to excel for the rest of the season."
"Our main goal was winning the team championship", said McManigle. "The team is working really hard and I think we're going to go into the NCAA Championship very strong this year."
#1 EMORY 5, #2 U. of CHICAGO 4
1. Higgins/Hu, (CHI) def. Wylie/Clark (EU), 8-4
2. Li/Vaca Guzman (CHI) def. McManigle/Dawson (EU), 9-7
3. Padmanabhan/Kelly (EU) def. Krishnan/Kung (CHI), 8-2
Order of Finish:3, 1, 2
1. Gabrielle Clark (EU) def. Kendra Higgins (CHI), 6-1, 6-0
2. Jennifer Kung (CHI) def. Jordan Wylie (EU), 6-2, 6-3
3. Lorne McManigle (EU) def. Carmen Vaca Guzman (CHI), 7-6 , 2-6, 6-2
4. Linden Li (CHI) def. Zahra Dawson (EU), 6-3, 1-6, 7-5
5. Mavalik Padmanabhan (EU) def. Chrissy Hu, 6-4, 6-2
6. Laura Callava def. Aswini Krishnan (CHI), 6-2, 6-1
Order of Finish: 1, 2, 3, 5, 4, 6
Also taking place Sunday morning was the tournament's third place match in which fifth-seeded Carnegie Mellon and third-seeded Denison, which also went down, with Denison claiming the final set, also at the sixth spot, in a 5-4 victory.
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