Tritons En Route to Fifth Straight Conference Title

WOMEN’S TENNIS ­— Head coach Liz LaPlante has said
throughout the season that her team’s incredible depth will inevitably make her
players stronger as the season progresses.

“Having so many options makes practice more spirited, and
that intensity will translate to matches,” LaPlante said.

The Tritons have topped the rest of the California
Collegiate Athletics Association for four consecutive years, and with this deep
group maturing fast, it looks almost inevitable that the streak will be extended
for another year.

After starting the season with unknown players, LaPlante has
watched her squad evolve into a nationally ranked team as the West Regional
approaches. Like the men’s team, LaPlante led her lady Tritons to Alabama
for the Blue/Gray Jamboree from March 26 to March 29. The competition in the Midwest
gave the team a much-needed litmus test before the postseason.

In the Tritons’ opening contest, they matched up with the
hosts, Alabama University at Montgomery. The Tritons lost 9-0, with UCSD’s best
result coming in singles from No. 6 senior Molly Sullens, who lost 7-5, 6-1. In
the other five singles matches, Alabama Montgomery dropped a mere 13 games,
demonstrating their strength as a team.

“Having our girls play against a team like this is a great
experience, especially for the younger players who have plenty they can improve
on,” she said. “They had to work extremely hard for each and everything out
there, and I’m proud of the way they fought, regardless of the score.”

The second match of the week featured a showdown with No. 12
Columbus State University on March 27. Once again, UCSD had difficulty picking
up any momentum and lost 6-1; however, the Tritons were much more competitive
in this one. At No. 1 doubles, freshmen Natalie Varnay and Taskeen Bains got
their team going with a rousing 8-2 win over Columbus State’s top doubles team
Agata Polcyn and Lindsay Groenewald. Columbus State responded and tied the
match with an 8-2 victory at No. 3 doubles.

The No. 2 doubles match, featuring Triton freshmen duo
Kimmie Dao and Valerie Tang taking on Roxana Dondera and Gabriela Vasilescu,
was the match that would break the tie and would end up deciding the match as a
whole. Dondera and Vasilescu managed to make the clutch plays to steal a 9-8
win and give Columbus State an important 2-1 early lead before singles play
started. Columbus State quickly won four singles matches to clinch the tie and
the other two matches were cancelled because the result of the overall match
was no longer in doubt.

The Tritons demonstrated their resiliency the next day,
bouncing back to upset Division-I opponent University of Texas at El Paso by a
5-4 score on March 28. After an 8-3 loss by the third doubles team of freshman
Dalya Perelman and senior Justine Ang Fonte, the Tritons responded by winning
the other two doubles matches, both of which were tense, down-to-the-wire
games. Dao and Tang displayed exceptional poise in beating Ximena Fuentes and
Megan Pritchard 8-6.

The top doubles match was just as compelling. Faced with the
familiar situation of being knotted at one win apiece with an upcoming
tiebreaker needed to settle the third doubles contest, UCSD lost 9-8 in the
rubber match for the second day in a row.

Instead of hanging their heads after another difficult loss,
the Tritons were able to flip the script in singles. UCSD won two huge matches
in third set tiebreaks, which turned out to be the difference. Dao managed to
overcome a huge deficit in beating Vicky Machaud 1-6, 6-4, (10-3) in No. 3
singles. After getting the decisive break of serve in the second set, Dao began
playing with more confidence and left no doubt in the third set.

After struggling to get anything going in losing the first
set 6-0 in No. 4 singles, Fonte fought back in a stirring reversal of fortune.
She won the second set 6-2, and then won a back-and-forth tiebreaker 13-11. The
clutch victories helped seal the deal on a 5-4 win.

The victory left the Tritons drained when they played
Lindsey Wilson College in the day’s second match. UCSD grabbed a 2-1 lead in
doubles but tired in singles to lose the match.

In their last match on March 29, No. 18 University of West
Florida proved too much for the Tritons, beating them 7-2. West Florida jumped
on UCSD early, winning the three doubles matches by a combined score of 24-4.

In singles, Perelman and Tang managed to give Tritons their
two points of the match with victories. Perelman’s came in a tense three setter
where she held off Paola Arevalo 6-4, 3-6, (10-8).

Since then, the Tritons have continued their dominance in
conference, beating Cal State San Bernardino 8-1 and Sonoma State University
9-0. The wins extended UCSD’s run of consecutive wins in conference play to 46.

In their most recent match, UCSD took on No. 17 Hawaii
Pacific University on April 6. The match was a compelling one, with the Tritons
falling just short 5-4. The two teams split the singles matches, with the key
match coming at the fifth spot. Hawaii Pacific’s Tinka Mihova managed to come
from behind to defeat Sullens by a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, a match that proved to be the

UCSD has three matches left in the regular season, two at
home, first hosting Concordia University on April 10, then finishing the season
with conference games against Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State Los Angeles.