The Case Western Reserve University women's tennis team will kick off its spring 2017 campaign this weekend, when the 20th-ranked Spartans take on Cleveland State University on Friday, February 10th at 3:00 p.m. in the Medical Mutual Tennis Pavilion.
The Spartans will enter the 2017 spring season with high expectations, after a slew of strong performances in the fall placed the team into the top-20 of the Oracle/ITA Division III Women's Tennis National Rankings, and to fourth in the Central Region Preseason Poll. CWRU is coming off a 14-5 campaign in 2016, and a fifth-place finish at the University Athletic Association Championships.
"Currently, we're ranked 20th nationally and with a very difficult schedule which includes a lot of ranked teams to compete against this season, we are definitely looking to improve on this ranking and move inside the top 15," said Head coach Kirsten Gambrell, who is now in her fifth season at CWRU, and her fourth as the team's head coach. "We are always a strong doubles team and with a deep lineup this year, we are working very hard to be ready to compete at a high level against great opponents. Getting off to a great start in doubles always helps us, while also giving us an opportunity to gain the momentum and build confidence as the match progresses."
Leading the way for the Spartans will be reigning UAA Most Valuable Player and a two-time NCAA Individual selection Nithya Kanagasegar, who did not compete in the fall as she studied abroad. Kanagasegar returns this spring after ending last season ranked 37th among all NCAA Division III singles players, and seventh among players in the Central Region, finishing the year with a 15-11 overall record.
Freshman Kendal Holladay opened her collegiate career by reaching the round of 16 of the main singles draw at the ITA Regionals this past fall. She will begin the spring ranked 24th in the region among DIII singles players.
Junior Peyton Young will also look to add to a strong fall, during which she advanced to the round of 16 of the main singles draw at the ITA Regionals. She will carry a 4-2 singles record from the fall into the spring.
"After studying abroad in the fall, it is great to have Nithya back this semester," said Gambrell. "She is not only our top player and has built an incredible resume in only two years of college tennis, but she has a tremendous work ethic and dedication to getting better and improving her game. It is hard to put into words what she means to our program, but she is a very special player and person. I know she will continue to lead as she has always done both on and off the court this spring. Kendal and Peyton were very impressive in the fall and I am excited to see them make a big impact in our lineup. They are incredibly talented in both doubles and singles and will surely be an important part of our success this season. As our only ranked singles player currently, Kendal has already accomplished a great deal as a freshman and I really love what a fierce competitor she is."
In addition, sophomore Jessica Liu, who ended last season ranked 20th in the final Central Region singles poll, will carry a 2-2 singles record from the fall into the spring, and now stands at 19-11 over her career. Senior captain Jennifer Lowe will aim to add experience to the lineup after going 2-1 in singles play in the fall. Senior Kennedy Mulholland will also look to add to a strong fall, during which she went 4-2 in singles play, while junior Nina Cepeda, and freshmen Lauren Beier, Katie Busch and Katrin Gurvich will all look to make an impact during the upcoming season.
"As a relatively young team, it is hard to pinpoint what to expect this season," said Gambrell. "However, we have such a deep team and with the combination of our experienced upperclassmen with the talented and energized underclassmen, we have such an awesome balance on the team right now. With a lot of hard work on the court and also working on our fitness off court, this team is immensely talented and it will be great to see what this group can achieve. Most importantly, we're all excited to see how we can compete each weekend while also challenging ourselves to work even harder each day, which is a lot of fun."
The Spartans are slated to face a strong schedule during the year, with six of their opponents featured in the National Preseason Rankings, including an early test against 34th-ranked Hope February 17th. The squad will make a trip to Florida in March, where they will take on 23rd-ranked Trinity (Tex.) on March 13th and the 33rd -ranked University of Texas at Tyler on March 14th. Also in March, the Spartans will play matches against 18th-ranked Lewis & Clark and 24th ranked Kenyon on March 26th.
CWRU will head to Altamonte Springs, Florida from April 20th-22nd for the 2017 UAA Championships. The always-tough conference features five nationally ranked teams this season, including top-10 teams in first-ranked Emory and 10th-ranked Chicago. From there, the Spartans hope to qualify for the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament, and the Individual Championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee at the end of May.
Meanwhile, the Spartans will kick off their 2017 campaign on Friday against Division I opponent Cleveland State, which stands at 1-4 after a 7-0 win over Oberlin College last weekend. This will be the first meeting between the two schools since the 2011-12 season.
"With very few chances to play non Division III teams during the year, we are especially looking forward to our match against Cleveland State this Friday," said Gambrell. "We have played teams of their caliber before and we know what to expect. Being our first match of the season and also playing with the new Division I rules format, I assume that will be a bit of a challenge to adjust to. Overall, if we focus on the things that we've been emphasizing in practice, it's a matter of executing that game plan. They will compete extremely hard and we need to be able to match their level of intensity."
Results and a recap of Friday's match will be posted to athletics.case.edu at the completion of competition.