On Sunday, May 5, on a perfect day at Pat Lamb courts, the Carleton Knights’ Women’s Tennis team capped off a perfect 2019 against conference opponents, defeating the Bethel Royals by a score of 5 points to 2, in the MIAC Championship. This marks the Knights’ first MIAC tournament championship since 2014 and its seventh in program history. The victory earns the Knights a bid to the NCAA Championships, where they will compete with forty eight of the country’s other top DIII tennis programs, for the right to be named national champs.
Carleton entered Sunday’s match as the #1 seed in the MIAC postseason tournament. They had previously been crowned MIAC regular season champs, posting an undefeated record of ten wins and zero losses. The Knights ended up on the winning side of numerous tough matches en route to said regular season championship, including two against ranked opponents, coming in the form of a 5 to 4 win against #31 Gustavus Adolphus, and a 7 to 2 defeat of #38 Bethel.
The Knights feature an impressive squad of both singles players and doubles teams, that gave opponents fits all season. Standouts include a pair of regionally ranked first years in #8 Sonya Romanenko, and #18 Jeanny Zheng. As a single, Sonya has registered wins against regionally ranked #9 Grace Riermann of Bethel, #10 Bri Hartmann of Gustavus Adolphus, and #39 nationally ranked Gabi Kitchell of Wis-Whitewater. Zheng has a pair of markee wins of her own, including Bethel’s regional #18 Maggie Riermann, and GAC’s national #17 Ginger Valentine. Additionally, Carleton features the #22 doubles team in Division III, in the pairing of Kristina Conrad ’19 and junior Madeline Prins ’20.
Of team strengths, Conrad says: “As a team, we are probably strongest as singles players. Tennis is a funny sport where you are on a team, but most of the time you are competing individually. It can be tough to get stuck in your own head when you’re down in a match, but it helps to remember that you are playing for more than yourself.”
As MIAC regular season champions, the Knights did not have to compete in the first round of the MIAC postseason tournament, as they received a first round bye due to their impressive play. They faced St. Thomas in their semifinal matchup, whom they dispatched by a score of 5 to 2. The Knights received two points via a pair of doubles victories from the teams of Conrad and Prins (8 to 6), and Romanenko and Elizabeth Yim ’21 (8 to 1). Singles wins from Prins, Zhang, and Faith Yim ’21, collected the Knights the all important five points required for the playoff win.
The Knights certainly had their work cut out for them in the MIAC postseason championship. Led by the regionally ranked Riermann sisters, Bethel’s roster presented challenging opponents from top to bottom for the Knights to contest with.
“Coming into the MIAC championship we wanted to bring high energy and treat it like it was any other match,” Conrad told us. “Win or lose, our goal was to compete hard and enjoy our time together.”
The final match truly proved to be a true team affair for the Knights. Carleton swept the doubles matches, highlighted by Conrad and Prins’ defeat of the Riermann sisters by a score of 8 sets to 3, in the #1 doubles match. The pairs of Zhang/Faith Yim and Romanenko/Elizabeth Yim followed suit, winning their matches by scores of 8 to 6, and 8 to 5, respectively. Thus, the Knights entered the singles portion of the MIAC championship up 3 points to 0. Of their hot start, Conrad commented: “It was thrilling to start up 3-0 in doubles. It took some pressure off going into singles, and we were able to transfer our excitement from those wins over to singles which helped.”
The Knights only needed two wins out of six singles matches to earn the overall team ‘W’, and to advance to the NCAA championships. They found two points from Prins and Faith Yim, who found victories in their #4 and #5 singles matchups to propel the Knights to a MIAC title. “Winning the MIAC championship was an unforgettable experience,” said Conrad. “Having lost the past couple of years in the final made this year’s win very rewarding. I’m hoping to finish off the year strong at the NCAA tournament, knowing that no matter the outcome I am so proud of all we have accomplished.
The Knights will face the Edgewood Eagles in the first round of the NCAA tournament, at the Wangerin Courts in Whitewater, Wisconsin, Friday, May 10th. The Eagles, champions of the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference, will enter the big dance with an impressive record of 20 wins and 7 losses, though they are not ranked in the central region.