Allen, Cox Win NCAA Doubles National Championship, Defeating Tan, Bahsoun in All-CMS Final

From L to R: Sarah Bahsoun, Nicole Tan, Caroline Cox and Catherine Allen after facing each other in the NCAA Doubles Finals
From L to R: Sarah Bahsoun, Nicole Tan, Caroline Cox and Catherine Allen after facing each other in the NCAA Doubles Finals

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Junior Catherine Allen and sophomore Caroline Cox captured the 2019 NCAA Women's Doubles National Championship, defeating junior Nicole Tan and freshman Sarah Bahsoun in three sets (6-7, 6-1, 6-3) in an all-CMS NCAA Division III Women's Doubles Championship on Sunday afternoon at Stowe Stadium.

The two Athena duos took different paths to arrive at the national championship match. Allen and Cox came in as the tournament's top seed after having an undefeated regular season against Division III competition, including a national championship win in the ITA Cup in the fall. Tan and Bahsoun, meanwhile, who play No. 2 doubles for the Athenas, were an alternate when the original 16-team field was chosen, and didn't even get a chance to play until one of the original 16 teams was forced to withdraw.

Yesterday in the quarterfinals, Allen and Cox earned a 6-1, 6-3 win over Kenyon to earn their way to Sunday's semis, while Tan and Bahsoun pulled a big upset to defeat the tournament's No. 4 seed, Kristina Yu and Victoria Yu of Wesleyan. Bahsoun and Tan were able to shake off a first set 7-5 defeat and roar back to win in three sets, taking the final set 6-0 to advance to the semifinal round.

Both CMS doubles teams advanced to the finals with three-set wins over their counterparts from Middlebury, who the Athenas also played in the NCAA Division III Semifinals on Tuesday, a 5-2 CMS win. This time around, the doubles match-ups were reversed, with Allen and Cox (who play No. 1) taking on Middlebury's No. 2 team of Katherine Hughes and Skylar Schossberger, while Bahsoun and Tan battled the Panthers' No. 1 duo of Heather Boehm and Ann Martin Skelly.

After the first sets, it was actually Middlebury which had the inside track to meet each other in the finals, as both Panther duos took 6-4 wins for 1-0 leads. Tan and Bahsoun, though, were able to find their groove in the second set and cruise to a 6-1 win, almost getting another 6-0 set victory before the Panthers were able to take a late game to make it 6-1.

Allen and Cox were in a tight battle in the second set, needing a split to stay in it. They were down late in the set 4-3 and fought off a couple points which would have made it 5-3 before coming back to tie it 4-4. After CMS held for a 6-5 lead, Middlebury also held to force it to a tiebreaker and led 3-2 early, before CMS rattled off four huge points in a row to make it 6-3 and give them three set points. Middlebury fought off the first, but after a lenghty rally on the second, Allen hit a low shot that was volleyed back into the tape to win the tiebreaker 7-4 and level the match at a set apiece.

Tan and Bahsoun, meanwhile, earned an early break in their third set and kept coming up with key holds to maintain a narrow lead. With the score 5-4, Bahsoun served for the match and Middlebury was able to stay close at 30-30. Bahsoun spun a first serve in that resulted in a soft return that Tan emphatically put away to create a match point, and then Tan's overhead down the middle off a lob put the CMS duo into the finals with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory.

After a brief rain delay following a break for a 1-0 lead, Cox held serve and she and Allen broke again for a 3-0 lead. After an exchange of holds made it 4-1, Cox held again for a 5-1 lead, and CMS broke for a third time to finish off the win, as Allen hit a perfect serve return down the line and followed it into the net, before a defensive shot from the Panthers sailed over the line to give the Athena pair a 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-1 win.

The win set up an all-CMS finals, which created a unique problem for both sides, who wanted to win their national titles, but it would have to come at the expense of their teammates.

"I don't think it's possible to put it out of your head that you're playing your teammates," said Cox. "We spend every day with them and we're close friends off the court too. It was tough, but at the end of the day, it's the NCAA Finals and you have to compete."

"We are all pretty competitive and we're pretty competitive in practice too," said Allen. "It's hard to go out there and think that it's not nationals."

The All-CMS final went the full three sets, with the first one going to a tiebreaker after the two Athena teams broke each other late in the set. Allen and Cox trailed 6-4 in the tiebreaker, but battled back with the next two points to tie it up. However, with the score tied 7-7, Tan and Bahsoun earned the final two points with Tan's volley winning it for 9-7 and a 1-0 lead.

From there, though, Allen and Cox found their groove and took the final two sets 6-1, 6-3 to come back from a set down for the second time on the day and earn the national title. Tan and Bahsoun battled right to the end, holding down 5-2 and battling back from 40-0 to 40-30 before their final shot sailed out of bounds to end their impressive tournament run from alternates to finalists.

For Allen and Cox, they both agreed that this national title was exciting, but not the same as one year ago, when the Athenas won the team title. "If felt a lot better last year winning as a team," said Cox, "but for sure this is still an amazing accomplishment."

The two also acknowledged the accomplishment of their opponents, who weren't even in the field a week ago. "I am so proud of them right now," said Cox. "So proud," added Allen, "Especially for Sarah, as a freshman she's been rock solid in both doubles and singles. She's had an amazing year, and I'm excited for next year when she has a little more experience."

Next year will see the Athenas return their entire regular singles and doubles line-up as they to win their second national title in three seasons, including the last two doubles teams standing in this year's national championships.