Women's tennis wins Ivy League, earns second-ever NCAA bid
With a win against Princeton University on Sunday, No. 44 women’s tennis clinched a share of the Ivy League title and with it, the team’s second-ever NCAA tournament bid.
Dartmouth began April with a strong 12-2 record — the favorite to win the Ivy League. But suddenly, the team went cold, losing two of its first three conference games. On April 2, the team traveled to Harvard University and came away with a tough 4-3 loss. Then on April 9, two days after the Big Green got an away win at Yale University, Brown University came to Hanover and dealt Dartmouth a stinging 5-2 defeat. With a difficult conference slate ahead and slim chances of winning the Ivy League, the Big Green decided it needed to refocus.
“We got back to the idea of worrying about what we could control, which was how hard we were going to compete, how hard we were going to play for each other and how excited we were to represent Dartmouth,” women’s tennis head coach Bob Dallis said. “When you do that, the winning and losing takes care of itself.”
With its renewed mentality, the Big Green reeled off back-to-back close wins over Cornell University and Columbia University to keep its chances alive heading into the final week of the regular season.
“Going into the weekend, there was a lot up in the air,” co-captain Taylor Ng ’17 said. “With two matches, we knew anything could happen. A lot of people didn’t talk about it. They didn’t want to jinx it.”
To earn a share of the Ivy League title, Dartmouth needed to win both of its matches over the weekend, in addition to the University of Pennsylvania beating Harvard on Sunday.
In its first match of the weekend, the Big Green was tied 3-3 with Penn when co-captain Jacqueline Crawford ’17 clinched the match, pulling out a three-set victory.
In its final regular season matchup, the Big Green faced a Princeton University team that had finished as Ivy League champions for the past three years. None of the current players on Dartmouth’s roster had been part of a team that beat Princeton in conference regular season play.
“It was a match I had thought about for the entire year, knowing very well that it could be my last match,” Ng said.
Dartmouth started the day well, winning No. 1 and No. 3 doubles to earn the match’s first point. Quick singles wins by Allison McCann ’20, Crawford and Kristina Mathis ’18 secured the win for the Big Green.
“We did a good job of using our emotion to fuel our focus and intensity for that day,” Crawford said. “We played extraordinarily well.”
Ng, celebrating Senior Day alongside Crawford, split her first two sets but went on to win her match in a super-tiebreaker, 10-8 in the third set.
“[Crawford] won her match very quickly, and when I saw that, I started crying in my match,” Ng said. “I was really happy for her and for our team. Then at the end of my match, I burst into tears. It was a long time coming, and it’s been so worth it.”
Meanwhile, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Penn beat Harvard to ensure a three-way tie between Dartmouth, Harvard and Cornell atop the Ivy League. Because Penn defeated both Cornell and Harvard but lost to Dartmouth, the Big Green claimed the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
In 2015, the Big Green earned an at-large bid into the 64-team bracket-style tournament after finishing second in the Ivy League. Dartmouth beat then-No. 49 College of William and Mary in the first round before falling to the then-No. 2 University of North Carolina.
The Big Green will look to use that tournament experience as well as senior leadership and momentum to reach the third round for the first time ever.
“The overriding goal is to get to Athens, Georgia, which is where the Round of 16 is. But to do that, you have to worry about winning your first-round match and then worry about winning your second-round match,” Dallis said.
To prepare for the NCAA tournament, Dallis let his team take the week off to rest emotionally, mentally and physically and to catch up academically.
When the team returns to practice this weekend, the Big Green will focus on its doubles play, an area where the team has struggled despite its overall 17-4 record. Winning the doubles point, as it did against Penn and Princeton last weekend, allows Dartmouth to play its singles matches under less pressure.
But at times this season, pressure has seemed to invigorate the Big Green. The team went 12-9 in doubles during the 2017 season and amassed a 7-2 record in matches where it lost the doubles point.
“The hallmark of this team was how they responded to adverse situations,” Dallis said.
Dartmouth will find out its first-round opponent during the NCAA selection show on Tuesday, May 2, at 5:30 p.m. The first-round will be played on May 12 or 13, depending on the team’s seeding.
“We’re definitely looking to continue the way we’ve been competing and supporting one another,” Crawford said. “This is such a close group of girls. We’ve done a good job of leaving everything we have on the court, whether in practice or in a match.”