Repeat Quest for CMS Women's Tennis Comes up Just Short in 5-4 Defeat to Wesleyan in NCAA Finals

Rebecca Berger won a straight-set decision in the national title match for the second year in a row
Rebecca Berger won a straight-set decision in the national title match for the second year in a row

KALAMAZOO, Mich. - The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women's tennis team was one win away from its second national title, but ended up on the short end of a 5-4 defeat to Wesleyan in the NCAA Division III Championship match on Wednesday afternoon at Stowe Stadium.

The second-ranked Athenas finish the year with a 27-2 record with the defeat (although three individuals and one doubles team will continue on to compete in the NCAA singles and doubles championships later this week), while No. 4 Wesleyan ends at 20-2, including wins over No. 1 Emory (NCAA Semifinals), No. 2 CMS (NCAA Finals) and No. 3 Middlebury (NESCAC Championship) this May.  

CMS fell into a 2-1 deficit after doubles, before freshman Sarah Bahsoun brought the Athenas back even with a 6-0, 6-3 win at No. 6 singles. Wesleyan then went ahead 4-2 after the next two singles decisions, with Alexis Almy winning at No. 5 and Venia Yeung earning the win at No. 2 to bring the Cardinals within one win of the title.

The Athenas continued to fight, though, as sophomore Rebecca Berger overcame an early 4-0 deficit in the first set to capture a 6-4, 6-3 win at No. 3 and give CMS some life. Junior Catherine Allen followed with a late break to take a 6-3, 7-5 win at No. 1 singles and level the match at 4-4. Both Berger and Allen had singles wins in last year's national championship match as well, a 5-4 win over Emory, making them 2-0 in their careers in NCAA Finals competition.

With the match already knotted up 4-4, freshman Sydney Lee won the second set at No. 4 singles (6-4) to earn a split, sending her match to a decisive third set which would determine the national title and momentum feeling like it was on the side of CMS. 

Wesleyan's Polina Kiseleva, though, responded to the challenge and jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third set. Lee dug down and came up with an important break to get back on serve, leaving her down 3-2. However, she needed a medical timeout after the fifth game, and after the five minutes were up, Kiseleva was able to get the momentum back with a break and a hold to take a 5-2 lead. Lee kept battling, but Kiseleva continued to hit well-placed winners in both corners, and picked up the match point when she hit the line with a crosscourt winner to give Wesleyan the national championship.  

Doubles proved to be vital for the Cardinals, coming away with a 2-1 lead. Lee and junior Madison Shea picked up an 8-4 win at No. 3 doubles for the first point of the match, as Shea finished it off with a difficult volley on match point. However, Kiseleva and Yeung came back from a 4-1 deficit to take an 8-5 win at No. 2 doubles to quickly level the score. The swing match in doubles came down to No. 1, where sisters Kristina Yu and Victoria Yu of Wesleyan were able to pull out tight one, getting a service break to take an 8-6 win and give the Cardinals momentum going into singles. 

Allen, Berger and junior Nicole Tan will all participate in the NCAA Division III Singles Competition, which gets underway on Friday after a day off, while Allen and junior Caroline Cox will be in the doubles competition. When team competition gets underway again next year, CMS will have almost its entire roster back, as senior Jessie Cruz (98-17 in her career), will be the only player that CMS graduates off the current team as it tries to make another run at a national title.