Tennis Gets Ready for NCAAs

    Finals are crappy because you have to be at your best at a time when most would rather be doing nothing. Nobody wants to work so hard after being put through the wringer for 10 weeks. The only bright spot is that you know it will soon be done.

    The players on the UCSD women’s tennis team have academic finals coming soon, but they also have something more on their plate — nationals, which is the tennis equivalent of what scholars go through.

    After running all over the court and suffering from a plethora of injuries this year, the team finally made its way to nationals on the strength of a 5-3 win over Hawaii Pacific University last weekend.

    Going into the match, things did not look good for the Tritons. They were ranked lower than Hawaii Pacific, which meant a flight to the islands for an away match. Usually, traveling to paradise would not sound like much of a punishment, but jet lag can be a major factor in a high-level tennis match.

    If traveling thousands of miles was not enough, the Tritons’ No. 2 singles player, Lyndsey Tadlock, had a nagging arm injury for the match. She played through the pain, but was obviously not playing at 100 percent.

    All of this, in addition to the fact that the Tritons were the underdogs to begin with, made it look like UCSD might be in for a short postseason.

    We should never have doubted the spirit of the blue and gold.

    In doubles, the Tritons put on a show, winning two of the three games and quickly establishing the tempo of the match.

    At No. 1, Tadlock and Stephanie Moriarty struggled against powerful opponents. Although the Tritons’ top duo played tough, they were never a threat and walked off the court with a 3-8 loss.

    It was a different story at No. 2 doubles. Julie Westerman and Melisa Liao were in top form and dominated the match from beginning to end. They wound up with an 8-4 victory. This, coupled with an 8-5 win at No. 3 doubles by Mary Hung and Ashley O’Neil, gave the Tritons a 2-1 lead going into singles competition.

    By this point in the match the large crowd was really getting into the competition.

    Head coach Liz LaPlante was glad that the men’s team, which had been knocked out of the playoffs by an earlier loss at the Brigham Young University-Hawaii on Thursday, came to the match to help drown out some of the cheering from Hawaii Pacific fans.

    “”They had quite a big and loud crowd cheering for them,”” LaPlante said. “”Fortunately, our men’s team came to watch and cheered for us.””

    The singles competition came right down to the wire.

    O’Neil had a huge showing at No. 1, taking out her opponent 6-0, 7-6. Hawaii took both No. 2 and No. 3 singles as Tadlock was unable to fight through her injury and Liao was simply overmatched.

    “”Melisa’s opponent was pretty much unbeatable and was by far their strongest player,”” LaPlante said.

    Hung came up huge for the Tritons at No. 6, dominating the match with a 6-0, 6-1 victory in the biggest match of her life.

    “”Mary had the best match of the season, playing flawless tennis,”” LaPlante said.

    With two wins in the books for both teams in singles, two matches remained on the court. If the Tritons could manage to win one of them, they would be able to book a flight to Pensacola, Fla., and the National Championship Tournament.

    The two matches still in doubt were No. 4 and No. 5 singles, featuring Tritons Kristina Jansen and Westerman, respectively.

    Although everyone was tense, Jansen ended the suspense quickly with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 triumph that gave her team the victory. Westerman’s match was suspended at 6-2, 4-6, 1-4 because the Tritons had already clinched victory.

    With the win, the Tritons move on to the round of 16 of the NCAA National Tournament and will play Abilene Christian University in the first round on Thursday. The Tritons’ opponents are currently ranked 30th in the nation and snuck into the tournament by being the surprise winner of their regional.

    When asked about the health of her team, LaPlante wavered.

    “”Unfortunately, Lyndsey’s arm is still hurting her,”” LaPlante said. “”But everyone else is healthy.””

    The Tritons are the favorites in the first round but will need to find some magic if they want to make an appearance in the Division II finals the way they did last year in Division III.

    If you had to pick a coach who could lead her team to such a performance, it would have to be LaPlante, whose record in Division III was unmatched by anyone during her tenure.

    Wish the Tritons luck on their voyage and look for results from the NCAA nationals in Monday’s issue of the Guardian.

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