CLAREMONT, Calif. - For a majority of the year, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athenas were ranked third in the country behind the No. 1 Emory Eagles and No. 2 Williams Ephs. For the past two decades, Emory and Williams have ruled atop NCAA Division III women's tennis, combining for the last 10 National Championships and 16 of the last 17 Titles. This week the Athenas toppled both giants on back-to-back days to claim the first National Championship in program history.
After sweeping MIT in the Quarterfinals, and disposing of the defending National Champion Williams in the Semifinals, only the Emory Eagles stood between the Athenas and the National Championship.
The title fight lived up to the billing with Emory and CMS trading blows throughout the entirity of the match. In the end, it was the Athenas that landed the knockout punch from freshman Rebecca Berger (CMC) on court five with a 6-2, 6-3 win that locked up a comeback 5-4 victory for the Athenas, clinching their first NCAA Division III National Championship in program history.
Winning the Title at the Biszantz Family Tennis Center, marked the first time in DIII women's tennis history that a team clinched the National Championship on their home courts.
It was a back-and-forth battle throughout the three hour and 40 minute match and while CMS landed the last punch, it was Emory that struck first. The Eagles took a 2-1 lead after three doubles matches thanks in part to a dominating performance at the top spot. Ysabel Gonzalez-Rico and Bridget Harding handled the Athenas' top doubles team to the tune of an 8-1 victory to put the first team point on the board.
CMS quickly fired back with the Harvey Mudd doubles team of Kyla Scott (HMC) and Juliette Martin (HMC) picking up an 8-3 win on court three. The team point tied the match for a moment and ensured that it would be a 2-1 margin one way or another heading to singles play.
The only match in still action was on court two and, after trailing big, the Athenas were battling back. The team of Caroline Cox (CMC) and Catherine Allen (SC) fell into a 7-2 hole, but rattled off four-straight games to pull within one at 7-6. The duo was unable to complete the comeback as Emory held their service to close out an 8-6 victory from the team of Anna Fuhr and Stephanie Taylor.
For only the fourth time all year, but second in as many days, the Athenas found themselves trailing 2-1 at the end of doubles play. Just like Tuesday, CMS came out firing in the singles portion of the match. Needing to win four of the six singles matches to claim the Title, CMS came out and grabbed the opening set on courts two, four, five, and six.
At No. 4 singles, Kyla Scott won the opening set 6-1, but her Emory opponent, Anna Fuhr, fought back and forced a third set with a 6-3 victory in the second. Playing in her final collegiate match, Scott regained her form in the third set, emerging with a 6-2 victory to claim an important 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 victory. Despite playing the only three-set match in singles, Scott was off the court first and tied the match at 2-2 with lots of tennis left to play.
Freshman Ysabel Gonzalez-Rico from Emory continued the see-saw trend with a 7-5, 6-2 win in the top singles match, putting the Eagles back in the lead at 3-2.
From the beginning of singles play it looked like one court was going to finish well before the other five. Down on court six, Caroline Cox dominated the opening set, picking up a 6-0 set victory. She then continued her strong play into the second set, building a 5-1 lead before a furious comeback from Emory's Stephanie Taylor actually put Cox in a 6-5 hole in the second set. Cox held her serve and then went on to claim the tiebreak (8-6) to win the match 6-0, 7-6 (6) in dramatic fashion to, once again, tie the match at 3-3.
With three singles matches remaining, CMS and Emory were deadlocked at 3-3, but Emory's Daniela Lopez edged senior Lindsay Brown (CMC) with a 7-5, 6-4 victory on court three to put the Eagles out in front 4-3.
This left Catherine Allen (No. 2 singles) and Rebecca Berger (No. 5 singles) as the only Athenas left on the courts. Allen needed a tiebreak in the second set, but claimed a 6-2, 7-6 (2) victory to bring the match level at 4-4 and set-up a winner-take-all situation at No. 5 singles.
After a painfully slow start to the No. 5 singles match between Rebecca Berger and Emory's Defne Olcay - the match was tied 1-1 in the opening set when the No. 6 singles match was beginning play in their second set - Berger had taken control, claiming the opening set 6-2. The CMS freshman continued her strong play into the second set, opening up a 5-3 lead. After a number of extended rallies, a shot from Olcay landed just beyond the baseline and the celebration was on for the Athenas. Berger earned the 6-2, 6-3 victory and, for the second night in a row, clinched the deciding point in the match. Wednesday's point not only claimed the match, but the first-ever National Championship in program history.
The Athenas finish the season with an overall record of 29-2 and join Washington & Lee (2007 National Title) as the only non-Emory or Williams National Champion since 2001.
With the victory, the women's tennis team joins the Athenas' women's volleyball and women's golf teams as National Championship in the 2017-18 season, continuing an unprecedented year of success for CMS Athletics on the National Stage.