The Case Western Reserve University women's tennis team will kick off its spring 2018 campaign this weekend, when the 18th-ranked Spartans take on 16th-ranked Trinity (Tex.) University on Friday at 7:30 p.m., then face the ninth-ranked University of Chicago on Saturday at 7:00 p.m., and conclude the weekend with a match against Denison University on Sunday at 8:00 a.m.
The Spartans will enter the 2018 spring season with high expectations, after a slew of strong performances in the fall placed the team within the top-20 of the Oracle/ITA Division III Women's Tennis National Rankings, and to third in the Central Region Preseason Poll. CWRU is coming off a 17-5 campaign in 2017, and a fifth-place finish at the University Athletic Association Championships.
"With perhaps our most experienced yet talented team ever, we have very high expectations for this season," said Head Coach Kirsten Gambrell, who is now in her sixth season at CWRU, and her fifth as the team's head coach. "It started in the fall season where we had some great results and then spent the off season working hard on our fitness with the Volt Strength Program. Now, we are extremely excited to have such a challenging schedule full of quality ranked opponents. Specifically, starting out with a difficult February schedule, we are hoping to see a lot of our hard work pay off. If we're able to rise to the occasion this spring, we'd love to continue moving up the rankings and potentially earn our program's first NCAA bid."
Leading the way for the Spartans will be three-time NCAA Individual selection Nithya Kanagasegar, who advanced to the quarterfinals of the main singles draw at the 2017 Intercollegiate Tennis Division III Central Regional Championships in the fall. Kanagasegar returns this spring after ending last season ranked 29th among all NCAA Division III singles players, and fourth among players in the Central Region, finishing the year with a 9-11 overall record. She will begin the spring ranked 48th in the nation among DIII singles players and 11th in the Central Region.
Junior Jessica Liu, who did not compete in the fall as she studied abroad, returns this spring after ending last season ranked 21st among all NCAA Division III pairings with Kanagasegar and fifth in the Central Region in the final ITA poll.
Freshman Madeleine Paolucci opened her collegiate career by teaming with Kanagasegar to reach the semifinals of the main doubles at the ITA Regionals this past fall. She will begin the spring ranked 15th in the region among DIII singles players.
"As our captain and top-ranked player in singles and doubles throughout her career, Nithya is still looking to improve her game and always thrives when competing at the highest Division III level," said Gambrell. "I know she's been working incredibly hard and I would love to see her qualify for NCAA's as an individual for the fourth year and cap off her last season as the best one yet. In addition, both Jessie and Maddie add valuable energy and leadership as our other top players. They are a vital part of our line up and will undoubtedly play a key role in our team's success. "
In addition, senior Nina Cepeda, who was tabbed All-UAA Honorable Mention at fourth singles last season, will carry a 4-4 singles record from the fall to the spring, and now stands at 36-20 over her career. Senior Peyton Young will also aim to add experience to the lineup after going 4-3 in singles play in the fall. Sophomore Katrin Gurvich will look to add to a strong fall, during which she went 7-1 in singles play, while freshmen Mira Amin and Nicole Cardwell will both look to make an impact during the upcoming season.
"Most importantly, everything about our program is built on hard work and hustle," said Gambrell. "Our practices are very physical with a foundation of being fast-paced and at a high-intensity. We need to be ready to bring extra effort and energy each and every day in order to continue to get to where we want to be."
The Spartans are slated to face a strong schedule during the year, with seven of their opponents featured in National Preseason Rankings, including an early test against 21st-ranked Hope on February 24th. The squad will make a trip to Florida in March, which includes a match against 34th-ranked East Texas Baptist University on March 13th. Also in March, the Spartans will play a match against the 15th-ranked University of Mary Washington at the Blue-Grey Invitational on March 17th.
CWRU will head to Altamonte Springs, Florida from April 27th-29th for the 2018 UAA Championships. The always-tough conference features seven nationally ranked teams this season, including top-10 teams in second-ranked Emory, ninth-ranked Chicago and 10th-ranked Carnegie Mellon. From there, the Spartans hope to qualify for the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament, and the Individual Championships in Claremont, California at the end of May.
Meanwhile, the Spartans will kick off their 2018 campaign on Friday against 16th-ranked Trinity (Tex.), which stands at 0-2 after an 8-0 loss to St. Mary's (Tex.) and a 7-2 loss to Texas A&M-Kingsville last weekend. The two schools met last season, with Trinity winning the match by a score of 7-2.
"This weekend is one that we've been counting down the weeks to since it was scheduled," said Gambrell. "It might be the first time we've had three home matches against teams of this caliber in one weekend. In particular, with doubles always being a strength and cornerstone of our program, we'll be looking to get off to a great start in each of these matches. I'll also expect to see our improved fitness show and help us pull out some of the long sets and matches."
Results and a recap of the matches from this weekend will be posted to athletics.case.edu at the completion of each match.