Women’s Tennis Drops Heartbreaker In Hilo to End Season

A 5-4 playoff loss to the University of Hawaii-Hilo on May 4 dashed the Tritons hopes at redemption, ending their otherwise outstanding season and their chance to compete for the NCAA National Championship in Kansas City, Mo., on May 10.

The Tritons started the match with promise, taking two of three doubles matches from the Vulcans’ grip, with junior Marsha Malinow and freshman Ina Dan grabbing the first Triton win in the No. 2 spot to down Sayaka Fukumoto and Nicole Campbell, 8-1. Sophomores Justine Fonte and Molly Sullens followed with a solid victory over Akime Kifumi and Wendy Owen, 8-2.

UCSD’s only doubles loss came in the No. 1 match, with Mai Fujii and Tiana Lum-Tucker outlasting juniors Katie McKee and Kristin Bronowicki in a close battle, 8-6.

UCSD carried some momentum from its doubles play into singles competition, as No. 6 Sullens stomped Kifune, 6-0, 6-1, to bring the Tritons within two wins of bidding the Vulcans a gracious “Mahalo.” However, the Vulcans refused to end their season prematurely, as Campbell was blasted by Fonte, 6-2, 6-2. The rare loss came at a most inopportune time, bringing Hilo back to within one point for the match lead.

McKee and Malinow had similar luck, dropping their matches each by scores of 6-4, 6-4 to fall behind in the overall score, 4-3.

According to head coach Liz LaPlante, the three-consecutive losses served as a testament to Hilo’s strong singles play.

“The Hilo girls are much better singles players than doubles players,” she said. “We played them very tough, but in some positions they are just a little better than us.”

The Vulcans, now in command of the lead, hoped to end the Tritons’ hope at Dan’s expense. However, the California Collegiate Athletic Association Freshman of the Year had other plans, coming from behind to beat Owen in an impressive upset 5-7, 6-4, 7-5.

LaPlante said that Dan was incredibly resilient, despite pulling a tendon in her left wrist.

“[Dan] got [her wrist] taped by the trainer and somehow continued to play great,” she said. “She played with unbelievable confidence and composure and I was so proud of her.”

With the score notched at four apiece, the chance to advance to the national championships came down to one match. In what proved to be one of the fiercest battles of the season, No. 4 Bronowicki squared off against the formidable Fukumoto, an opponent that Bronowicki needed three sets to dispose of in the teams’ previous meeting this season.

In that matchup, Bronowicki exploded for an early lead, with Fukumoto battling back to even the series. In the tiebreaker, Bronowicki surged past Fukumoto to earn the victory.

This time, however, a more determined Fukumoto fought the stalwart Bronowicki, edging her out in the first set, 7-6. Bronowicki responded loudly, refusing to say die and taking the second set by the same score. In the third set, however, an exhausted Bronowicki faltered, falling 6-1, and sent the Tritons home to La Jolla without their first D-II national title.

The Tritons’ second defeat at the hands of the Vulcans was oddly similar to its first, with UCSD falling by the same margin, 5-4. In addition, the doubles results were nearly identical, and most of the singles matches played out as they had before. In fact, the only difference between the regular season and the playoff series was that the Tritons’ No. 3 and 4 singles players Dan and Bronowicki flip-flopped their outcomes, with Dan winning this time and Bronowicki losing.

Needless to say, the Tritons hope for better success next year, and LaPlante is confident about the team’s potential.

“The girls learned so much this year about playing big matches and they know what it takes to win,” she said. “They have become very close and it will be very easy to start back in the fall.”

(Clockwise from above): Senior Mike Cunningham (center) took first place in the 400-meter hurdles, leading the men’s team to a second place overall finish at the California Collegiate Athletic Association Championships May 4 through 6; senior Brianna Hinga placed first and set a school record in the women’s javelin; and senior Mimi Hodgins finished her UCSD career on top, taking two first place spots in the 800 and 1,500 runs and placing third in the 3,000 as the women placed first overall.