When the women’s tennis team arrived in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to compete in the NCAA Championships, it was the Tigers’ fifth appearance in the tournament in program history. No Princeton team had ever won a match on the national stage before. Across the court stood Arizona State, back for its 27th consecutive year.
The Sun Devils’ No. 25 ranking and longstanding NCAA tradition, however, did not daunt this year’s Ivy League champions, who came into the competition riding a 10-match winning streak.
“It was a great draw for us and we knew we were capable of beating them,” junior Katie Goepel said. “Knowing how far we had already come, I think all of us had the belief that we could win if we went into it with the same mentality that we had throughout the entire Ivy season, which we definitely did.”
Despite a hard fought win from sophomore duo Emily Hahn and Amanda Muliawan on the court, Arizona State took the doubles point after Princeton’s remaining matches could not rally.
When singles competition began, the Tigers found themselves in a hole again, with the Sun Devils edging out two early victories in the face of yet another win on the singles court from Muliawan. Princeton needed to win out its remaining three matches if it wanted to move past the opening round for the first time.
But with a demeanor more reflective of a seasoned NCAA team, the Tigers slowly chipped away at Arizona State’s lead. Junior Lindsay Graff, Ivy League Player of the Year, beat out the 69th nationally ranked Stephanie Vlad. Goepel earned a three set victory on court six, and it was all up to freshman Alanna Wolff, the only Tiger nationally ranked in singles play.
The pressure on Wolff to beat the 37th ranked player in the country didn’t seem to show. The rookie handed her opponent a cool 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 win and pushed Princeton into the second round of competition.
On the other side of that barrier that had just been breached, however, stood No. 2 Alabama. Each of its doubles teams held a national ranking, as did all but one of its singles players, and Princeton could not pull off another upset, dropping to the Crimson Tide 4-2.
“We went out there once again with the belief that we could win and we played them to a very close margin,” Goepel said. “At one point it was 2-2 and unfortunately they got two more points in very tight singles matches, but the whole match was very competitive and we were right there until the end.”
Though Princeton did not advance to the Round of 16, it earned its first NCAA tournament victory in program history, on its longest winning streak since 2000, and finished the season with the second-most wins in program history. With such a young team — the Tigers will return their entire starting lineup — Princeton sees this round as a victory in its own right.
“Honestly it really was an honor to compete on college tennis’ biggest stage with the rest of the girls and to see firsthand that we can definitely hang with the top teams in the country at every spot in the lineup,” Graff said. “It’s obviously a great stepping stone for this team as we head into next year, knowing that we’re returning so many players and having that true confidence and belief in each other.”
The No. 18 women’s lacrosse team won its first round match of the NCAA tournament on Friday, beating Penn State 16-13. Erin McMunn ’15 led Princeton with four goals. On Sunday, despite coming back from a 5-1 deficit to No. 11 Virginia in its second round matchup, the Tigers were eliminated in a 13-11 defeat. Junior Erin Slifer led the offense with four goals, including Princeton’s final score.
Princeton women’s track and field team finished Heptagonals this weekend in fifth place, with a standout performance by record setting sophomore Julia Ratcliffe. The hammer thrower won the Most Outstanding Field Performer in this year’s championships, three day after it was announced that she is on the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s Bowerman Watch List.
The men’s track and field squad came up just a heartbreaking eight points shy of the Heptagonals title, just edged out by Cornell. Senior Damon McLean put up another standout performance in the triple jump, easily taking first, while teammate Nana Owusu-Nyantekyi placed third in the event.