The St. Thomas women’s tennis team rode strong doubles play to claim its first ever MIAC playoff championship Sunday afternoon with a 5-2 win against Gustavus, marking the Gusties’ first conference loss of the season.
St. Thomas joined Gustavus and Carleton as just the third team to win the MIAC playoff championship in women’s tennis since the conference adopted a playoff in 2007, and the Tommies defeated both the Gusties and the Knights en route to the title.
The road to the championship began when the No. 2-seeded Tommies took on the No. 3-seeded Knights in Lakeville on Friday.
The Knights played the Tommies tough in the regular season, losing 5-4. This time, however, the Tommies took care of business in a timely fashion.
“(Carleton) won the MIAC four years in a row,” junior Bridget Noack said. “We knew that if we didn’t come out with our A-game, they were definitely right there behind us.”
St. Thomas took a 2-1 lead in doubles before picking up three-set wins in singles by Noack and sophomore Paige Becher. Freshman Jenna Zimmerman added a victory in straight sets over Carleton’s Caitlin Shea to give the Tommies a 5-1 victory over the scrappy Knights.
In Sunday’s championship match, the Tommies jumped out to a fast start against the Gusties, sweeping all three of the doubles matches.
“We knew we had to come out strong,” Noack said. “Getting all three doubles wins was huge. We’ve been working on doubles all week, and it definitely showed.”
Freshmen doubles partners Caitlin Bakke and Zimmerman were able to exact some revenge in No. 3 doubles, defeating the Gustie duo of Ally Baker and Katie Aney 8-3. Baker and Aney defeated Bakke and Czarnecki 8-6 the first time the pairs met back on April 25 to close out the regular season.
“Baker and Aney are a very competitive team and they came out to win today, but Jenna and I played well, and we fought hard,” said Bakke.
With a 3-0 lead going into singles play, the Tommies just needed to win two matches to lock up the conference hardware. Those wins came courtesy of Zimmerman defeating Katie Aney in straight sets (6-3, 6-2) in No. 5 singles and senior Kara Lefsrud defeating Sidney Dirks (6-3, 3-6, 6-1) in No. 4 singles.
Zimmerman’s dominating performance came on the heels of a marathon defeat at the hands of Aney the last time the two met.
The victory gives coach Terry Peck his first MIAC championship in 20 years at the helm of St. Thomas women’s tennis.
“To win this for him was really cool,” Noack said. “We always say ‘Do it for Peck,’ but we really mean it. It was really cool to get this for him.”
As the MIAC champions, the Tommies locked up an automatic bid to the NCAA Division-III national tournament. They will now wait until the announcement of the tournament field at 11 a.m. on Monday.
“I am very excited for nationals,” Bakke said. “I’ve never been to anything quite like it, and I’m really looking forward to another experience with this great team. Hopefully the energy and hard work will carry over into next week.”
Zachary Neubauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.