Women's Tennis Looks to Get Over the Hump

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
 

A year ago, the Muhlenberg women’s tennis team missed the Centennial Conference playoffs by the slimmest of margins. This time around, the Mules plan on leaving nothing to chance.

Gabriela Contino
Contino entered the 2013-14 campaign with 23 career victories and was 4-4 in CC doubles play a year ago.
“That gave us so much motivation,” senior co-captain Emily Szulman said of the 2013 season, in which Muhlenberg finished in a three-way stalemate for the fifth and final postseason spot but came up on the short end of the tiebreaker. “We have a really strong team this year. I think this is the strongest lineup we’ve had since my freshman year. We have high expectations that we will make it to the playoffs.”

The Mules, who rejoin the spring season in earnest Thursday at Elizabethtown, are well aware of what they’re up against to do so. The CC is perennially one of Division III’s top conferences, and this year looks no different. Four teams – Johns Hopkins (2), Swarthmore (8), Dickinson (15) and Haverford (16) – find themselves in the top 20 of the regional rankings, but Muhlenberg is no stranger to scheduling gauntlets.

Last year, the Mules finished 5-10, but nine of those losses came to regionally or nationally ranked teams, including a pair of 5-4 setbacks. Muhlenberg opened the spring campaign with a loss to nationally ranked Vassar.

“I feel like those matches have prepared us well,” said Szulman. “We want to go out there and beat the teams we lost to in close matches, and we have really improved.

“We know that we have the potential to be a good team if we don’t get caught up in who we’re playing; before, we would have this expectation that some of these teams are so good, and we would get intimidated. If we put that aside and play our points, we could win some of those matches.”

Emily Szulman
Szulman, who came into the fall with a 52-49 career record, is the Mules' active leader in both singles and doubles wins.
While Szulman will play No. 3 singles in the spring, the top two spots in the lineup will be occupied by a familiar face and a new one.

Fellow senior co-captain Nina Sanders is back after two seasons at No. 1 singles. Last year Sanders, went 6-8 en route to earning All-CC second-team honors, and she and Szulman teamed up to receive honorable mention at first doubles. Sanders came into the 2013-14 season second among active Mules with 38 career victories.

Also battling for top billing will be freshman Sara Finger, who picked up her first career victory against Vassar. Finger was injured in the fall, but announced her presence in a big way with a straight-sets win at third singles in the spring opener.

Szulman, meanwhile, is coming off a strong season in which she posted a winning 6-4 mark in CC play at No. 2 singles. Now playing in the third slot, she expects even better results this spring.

“I feel like I should definitely have a really good record,” Szulman said. “Hopefully this will be the year that I do really well, and I think a lot of us will.”

Juniors Jennifer Goldberg and Sharen Resnikoff will play fourth and fifth singles, respectively. Both are coming off impressive seasons; Goldberg was 7-3 in CC play at No. 3, while Resnikoff posted a 6-3 mark at No. 4 in conference play.

Senior co-captain Gabriela Contino, who won three matches at No. 6 singles a year ago, and freshman Jamie Rosenblum will be in the mix to round out the lineup.

“We have learned a lot these past few years, and the fact that our team is so close helps so much,” Szulman said. “A good team dynamic is so important, and we have it. Because of that, it can help us push us through those tough matches.”

The Mules are bound to have plenty of those this season. But after 13 consecutive seasons of finishing .500 or better in the always difficult CC, a playoff berth could be the next step in the progression.

“We are playing tough teams who have a lot of good players, but I feel like if we stay on task, we can definitely make it to the playoffs,” Szulman said.