Women's Tennis Eyes CC Playoff Victory

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 - page 2

One of the Muhlenberg women’s tennis team’s most important victories of the season was an inside job, and it looks like it will have to pull off another one to begin its postseason journey.

Emily Szulman
Szulman leads all active Mules with 66 career victories. She and Sanders have teamed up for 28 doubles wins.
A week ago the Mules toppled Swarthmore, ranked ninth in the Atlantic South Region, in a match moved indoors to the Deitrich Field House courts because of rain. With plenty of precipitation in the forecast for Wednesday’s rematch in the first round of the Centennial Conference playoffs, there’s a good chance fifth-seeded Muhlenberg will need to go inside to beat the fourth-seeded Garnet a second time – except without homecourt advantage.

“I think it is an advantage for us having beaten them indoors already,” said senior Gabriela Contino. “Of course, we’re going to be at Swarthmore, so it will be a different surface. In terms of mentally preparing, we know we can beat them, so we’re pretty confident.”

Top-seeded Johns Hopkins, ranked third in Division III, awaits the winner on Saturday in Baltimore, while second-seeded Franklin & Marshall hosts third-seeded Haverford in the other semifinal. The winners will meet at Hopkins for Sunday’s championship.

The Mules, ranked No. 20 in the most recent regional rankings, are in the postseason for the first time in three years after locking up their spot with a dramatic comeback at Dickinson last Saturday in which they captured back-to-back three-set singles marathons to post a 5-4 victory. Muhlenberg missed the playoffs by the slimmest of margins a year ago, losing a three-way tiebreaker for the fifth and final berth. This time around, the Mules qualified by the skin of their teeth – Junior Jennifer Goldberg had to stave off multiple match points to pull out a 7-5 decision in the third set at fourth singles, setting the stage for freshman Sara Finger to seal the deal at No. 1.

Nina Sanders
Sanders won 6-1, 6-1 at No. 3 singles in the 2011 playoff match.
“That was quite the match,” said Contino, who teamed with Goldberg to win at No. 3 doubles despite falling behind 7-4. “It was so thrilling to watch Jen and Sara battle back. It was sensational. There were times where we were saying ‘well this is it,’ but they fought back. We were so proud of them and so happy afterwards. We knew we had fought so hard for this.”

Muhlenberg defeated the Garnet, 6-3, for the first time in five meetings on the strength of the middle of its singles lineup. The Mules won handily at Nos. 2-5, led by senior Nina Sanders, who posted a 6-1, 6-2 decision at No. 2. Fellow senior co-captain Emily Szulman (No. 3) won a pro set, while Goldberg (No. 4) and classmate Sharen Resnikoff (No. 5) were straight-sets winners.

Sanders and Szulman pulled out a 9-7 victory at No. 1 doubles against the team ranked ninth in the region, while Resnikoff and Finger teamed for a shutout at No. 2. Finger then took the Garnet’s top player, ranked 11th in the region, to a third-set super tiebreaker at No. 1 singles.

“We’ve talked a lot about how we played them the last time,” said Contino, who lost a close match at No. 3 doubles. “We’ve been thinking about our individual matches and coming up with a strategy.”

Finger’s victory at Dickinson made the rookie 3-3 in CC play, ensuring that every member of Muhlenberg’s singles lineup finished the regular season with a record of .500 or better for the first time since 2011. Goldberg was 7-3, while Sanders, Szulman and freshman Jamie Rosenblum (No. 6) were all 6-4 and Resnikoff wound up 5-5. That balance throughout the lineup had plenty to do with the Mules’ return to the playoffs.

“If you watch any of the challenge matches we play or watch us in practice, it’s pretty clear that we have a strong team all the way through,” Contino said. “The fact that we all compete with each other really helps every part of the lineup. We are very fortunate with the talent we have.”

Three years ago, the Mules defeated Haverford for their first postseason win since 1991. Along with Sanders and Szulman, who won at No. 3 doubles in that match, Contino would like nothing more than to extend her career with another playoff victory.

“As a senior, I don’t know if I could think of anything better,” Contino said. “At the beginning of the season we meet with Coach and talk about our goals, and the consensus for all of us was to make playoffs. Now that we have, we’re excited about the potential of winning the first round. It would be quite the memory. We did it freshman year, so to bring it full circle as seniors would be awesome.”