CLAREMONT, Calif. - Trailing 3-1 after dropping the first singles match, the No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athenas rattled off four-straight singles wins to clinch their first-ever appearance in the National Championship Match with a 5-3 victory over the No. 2 Williams Ephs in the National Semifinals. The victory snaps a 34-match winning streak for the defending National Champion Ephs that dates back to Apr. 9, 2017. Rebecca Berger (CMC) broke her Williams' opponent to clinch the match for the Athenas with a thrilling 6-2, 6-4 victory at No. 5 singles.
Waiting for the Athenas in the National Championship Match are the No. 1 Emory Eagles, who claimed the other National Semifinal on Tuesday with a 5-4 victory over the No. 4 Middlebury Panthers. On Wednesday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. the Eagles and Athenas will meet at the Biszantz Family Tennis Center with the 2018 National Championship hanging in the balance. CMS will be looking to avenge a 5-4 loss against Emory on the same courts on Mar. 25, 2018.
While the Athenas are making their first-ever trip to the National Championship Match, Emory is no stranger to the final match of the season. On Wednesday, the Eagles will be making their sixth-straight appearance, and 13th overall trip to the National Championship Match. Emory owns seven National Titles in women's tennis, including six in the last 15 years.
The Athenas came out of the gate a little slow in Tuesday's Semifinal. CMS quickly dropped two doubles matches to fall into an early hole with the Williams' teams of Julia Cancio/Juli Raventos and Chloe Henderson/Mia Gancayco dominating the Athenas, earning identical 8-1 victories on courts one and three. The two sizable Ephs' victories put the Athenas down 2-0 in the early going, but the team of Caroline Cox (CMC) and Catherine Allen (SC) held firm and earned an important 8-5 victory at No. 2 doubles to cut the Williams' lead to 2-1 heading into singles play.
In the Athenas' previous 29 matches in 2018, they had only faced a 2-1 deficit twice after doubles play and in both instances they split the six doubles matches, leading to their only two losses of the season.
Things would be different on Tuesday, as the Athenas shot out of the gate in their solo matches. Needing to win four courts to claim the match, CMS won the opening set in four of the six singles matches. One of the two outliers came on the top court, where Williams' Juli Raventos wrapped-up the first singles team point with a 6-4, 6-1 straight-set victory to grow the Ephs' lead to 3-1.
With the margin of error now shrunk, the Athenas continued to take care of business in the five remaining singles matches. Lindsay Brown (CMC) claimed a 6-3, 6-4 win over Rachel Cross at No. 3 singles and moments later, Caroline Cox tied the match at 3-3 with a 6-2, 6-3 victory on court six.
That left three courts still in action. Of the matches remaining, Catherine Allen (No. 2 singles) and Rebecca Berger (No. 5 singles) each won their first set while Williams' Chloe Henderson (No. 4 singles) edged Kyla Scott (HMC) in a back-and-forth opening set, 7-5.
Like Henderson, Catherine Allen claimed her first set by a 7-5 margin. The sophomore had an easier time in the second set, winning 6-3 and finished her match in straight-sets. Allen's 7-5, 6-3 victory gave CMS their first lead of the match at 4-3 and the attention of the crowd turned to courts four and five.
Battling with Mia Gancayco, freshman Rebecca Berger had the first chance to clinch the match for the Athenas with a victory in the second set. She had claimed the opening set by a 6-2 score and, after a number of lengthy rallies, made good on her opportunity, closing out Gancayco with a 6-4 win in set two.
Berger broke Gancayco's service to win the match, sending the Athenas streaming onto the court to celebrate Berger's 6-4, 6-2 clinching victory and CMS' first berth in the NCAA Division III Women's Tennis National Championship Match.
As mentioned, the Athenas have a chance to claim the National Championship on their home court tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 p.m. when they take on the Emory Eagles. No team in NCAA Division III women's tennis history has ever claimed the National Championship on their home courts. Only the Trinity (TX) Tigers in 2001 have ever played in the National Championship Match on their home courts.
Wednesday's National Championship Match between CMS (SCIAC) and Emory (UAA) will mark the first Title Match since 2006 that will not feature a team from the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC).