One More! CMS Advances to Second Straight NCAA Title Match with 5-2 Semifinal Win over Middlebury

Caroline Cox is congratulated by her teammates after the clinching win that sent CMS on to the finals
Caroline Cox is congratulated by her teammates after the clinching win that sent CMS on to the finals

KALAMAZOO, Mich. - Junior Catherine Allen and sophomore Caroline Cox won at No. 1 doubles and then both added wins in singles, with Allen dominating 6-1, 6-0 at No. 1 and Cox providing the clincher at No. 5, as the No. 2 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women's tennis team defeated No. 3 Middlebury 5-2 on Tuesday afternoon in the NCAA Division III Championship semifinals at Stowe Stadium.

With the win, CMS improves to 27-1 on the season and stands one win away from a repeat national championship after winning the first one in program history a year ago 5-4 over Emory. It will be a new opponent this year in the finals as No. 4 Wesleyan (Conn.) knocked off No. 1 Emory 5-4 in the other semifinal to advance to meet the Athenas tomorrow at 10 a.m. (7 a.m. Pacific) in the finals. 

Allen and Cox were the first to finish doubles, taking an 8-5 win at No. 1 to give the Athenas the 1-0 lead. There was heavy drama on adjacent courts as both No. 2 and No. 3 went to tiebreakers at the same time, with junior Nicole Tan and freshman Sarah Bahsoun prevailing in theirs 7-5 at No. 2 to give CMS a brief 2-0 lead. On Court 3, meanwhile, junior Madison Shea and freshman Sydney Lee, who battled back from 4-0 down to force the tiebreaker in the first place, fought off four match points before Middlebury took the last one for an 11-9 tiebreaker win to keep the Panthers within 2-1 going into singles. 

CMS withstood some early singles pressure from Middlebury as Katherine Hughes won 6-0 at No. 2 and Christina Puccinelli won 6-1 at No. 3, but Bahsoun was able to come back to take a 7-5 first-set win at No. 6 to give the Athenas the first set on four of six courts. In addition to Allen winning a quick 6-1 first set at No. 1, Lee and Cox both won 6-3 at No. 4 and No. 5 to keep CMS in the driver's seat. 

Allen finished off a 6-1, 6-0 at No. 1 to give CMS a 3-1 lead before Hughes answered with a 6-0, 6-2 win at No. 2 to make the score 3-2. However, the Athenas were in strong shape on the lower courts (No. 4-No. 6), where Lee, Cox and Bahsoun all took 5-1 leads with the chance to complete straight-set wins, with CMS needing only two to earn the clinch. 

At one juncture, Lee and Cox both had simultaneous match points active, and nearly picked up the decisive 4th and 5th points within a few seconds of each other. Lee was able to win hers on Court 4 by feathering a drop shot over the net to take a 6-3, 6-2, while Maddi Stow stayed alive for Middlebury five seconds later by painting a winner on the sideline to get back to deuce. 

Deuce became a recurring theme as Cox had five match points, only to see Stow fight them all off to get back to deuce each time. However, the sixth was the charm as Cox saw a Stow shot sail over the baseline to pick up the clinch, as Bahsoun saw her match stay unfinished with a 7-5, 5-1 lead.

After today's semifinals, CMS avoids playing Emory in a rematch of last season's national championship bout. Emory is also the only team to defeat the Athenas this season, taking a 5-3 decision at the ITA Indoor Nationals on March 3. However, CMS instead face a Wesleyan team that is riding high, having defeated Middlebury 5-2 in the NESCAC Championship and then taking down MIT 5-1 and Emory 5-4 to advance to the national championship.

The championsip match is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. but some rain in the forecast could adjust the schedule, or potentially move the title match indoors, as the Athenas will try to win their second straight national title.