Women’s tennis qualifies for NCAA tournament for first time
For the first time in College history, the women’s tennis team has received an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament. Completing its 5-2 record in the Ivy League by taking down Harvard University by a 5-2 score last Saturday, the team has been nationally ranked each week for more than three months and was ranked as high as No. 18 in the country at the end of February. The Big Green, now ranked No. 31, will play the No. 51 College of William and Mary next Saturday, May 9, at the NCAA tournament in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. If the Big Green wins, the team will play the winner of the game between the University of North Carolina, currently ranked second in the nation, and Quinnipiac University.
On the individual side, Taylor Ng ’17 of the women’s team and Dovydas Sakinis ’16 of the men’s team both qualified for the NCAA Division I singles championships. Ng received the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the tournament after going 7-0 in Ivy League singles play this season. Ng is the only Ivy League representative in the women’s singles tournament and is the first Big Green player to qualify for the women’s singles tournament.
Sakinis received an at-large bid and will be joined by Ivy rivals Winston Lin of Columbia University and Denis Nguyen of Harvard. Sakinis is the third player in program history to qualify for the singles tournament and the first to do so since Dan Coakley ’94 in 1994. Both Sakinis and Ng were named Ivy League Players of the Year in singles. The duo was also awarded first team all-Ivy honors in both the singles and doubles categories.
The men’s tennis team (14-10, 5-2 Ivy) narrowly missed qualifying for the NCAA tournament this year. Though the men finished tied for second in the Ivy League with Harvard, the team was not among the three Ivy teams selected for the field of 64, which included Columbia, Harvard and Princeton University.
The team did enough to qualify for the NCAA tournament, even though they did not receive a bid, men’s head coach Chris Drake wrote in an e-mail. Drake wrote that the team will continue to look to improve its doubles play going forward.
The women’s team was second in the Ivy League conference behind Princeton (12-8, 6-1 Ivy). Four of the Big Green’s five Ivy victories came by a margin of 4-3.
The team said they were excited to represent Dartmouth in the NCAA tournament and on the national scene.
“It’s obviously very exciting,” Ng said. “It’s a testament to all the hard work [the players] put in and the team culture cultivated by the coaches.”
The coaches are equally enthusiastic about the team’s opportunity to showcase the Big Green.
“The team is real excited to go play at the NCAA tournament,” women’s head coach Bob Dallis said. Dallis is hopeful that the team’s success will help show Dartmouth in a positive light.
“They could spread Dartmouth’s name in a positive way and out on the national scene, whether it’s in athletics or, ‘Hey, this is Dartmouth College and it’s a great place,’” Dallis said. “We’re excited that we get to do this on a little bit more of a national stage.”
The team watched the selection show together, and when the Big Green was selected, the squad was ecstatic.
“On the day itself, a few of us were kind of nervous going into it,” Julienne Keong ’16 said. “When they did the selection show we were one of the last teams to be announced in the tournament. All of us jumped up and we were cheering. I think it was a very special moment.”
While the team was nervous before the announcement of teams competing in the tournament, the women’s performance made them confident they stood a chance.
“We’re making history,” Akiko Okuda ’15, co-captain and the sole senior on the team, said. “We were pretty confident that we were going to get in because we knew our ranking was right above the threshold.”
While the team assumed that it would be able to secure a spot in the tournament after beating Harvard last weekend, the process was still nerve-racking as the Big Green was the last non-seeded team to be announced for the tournament, Okuda said.
The team’s first opponent, William and Mary, remains the Big Green’s focus going forward.
“That really is where our focus is,” Dallis said regarding William and Mary. “Because it’s the first match that’s the most important match. You worry about what’s in front of you.”
The Big Green team has a special relationship with the William and Mary team.
“Their assistant coach used to be my assistant coach here at Dartmouth,” Dallis said. “Their head coach is a really nice guy, we played them a bunch this fall and we’ve gone to their fall invitational the last two years.”
In preparation for the heat and humidity of North Carolina, the Big Green is stepping up its cardio exercises.
“We are in Hanover, New Hampshire, and its 45 degrees out today,” Dallis said, chuckling. “So when you play in heat and humidity, it does tax your aerobic system a little bit more.”
The team played agaisnt members of William and Mary twice last fall, and so far the athletes feel fairly confident about the outlook against them at the tournament.
“We know a lot about them, so we will be prepared in that sense,” Okuda said.
Jeltje Loomans and Leeza Nemchinov will look to lead the Tribe past the Big Green and into the second round of the tournament. Nemchinov will join Ng in the NCAA tournament singles championship while Loomans and Nemchinov will team up on the doubles side of the NCAA tournament. Loomans has qualified for the NCAA tournament in each of her four years at William and Mary.
The team will play William and Mary on May 9 at 9 a.m. If they win that match, they will play the next match on May 10 at 1 p.m.