Ladies’ tennis headed to conference

Tim Ruberton

The Lawrence women’s tennis team finished its best season in recent memory with a grueling doubleheader on Saturday. Due to a borderline-psychotic scheduling quirk, the Vikings had to travel to DePere for a 10 a.m. start against ever-annoying St. Norbert College, then return for a 3 p.m. start against Beloit at the Lawrence courts. Both meets were key intra-division match-ups that would determine whether Lawrence’s 12-1 overall record going into Saturday’s play would pay off with a conference tournament appearance or fade into history as a good-but-disappointing showing. The Vikes, in the end, did not disappoint.
The blustery day got off to a rough start against the Green Knights of Norbert as the Vikes dropped the meet 7-2. It was much closer than the final score would indicate, as three of Lawrence’s singles players – No. 2 Susan Klumpner, No. 3 Serene Sahar, and No. 6 Maggie Helms – took their matches to third sets, with Klumpner narrowly losing her final set 5-7. Klumpner and Sahar did team up to notch one of Lawrence’s victories of the morning, knocking off Heather Kerswill and Katie Olberding 8-6 in the No. 2 doubles pairing. No. 4 singles player Lisa Ritland accounted for the other Lawrence tally, winning her match over Emily McElhaney 7-5, 6-3. This all occurred under less-than-ideal conditions: a morning match, on the road, against a top team, on indoor courts perhaps best described as “dingy” – one Lawrence player is reported to have slipped and fallen on the decorative coating of dust.
The afternoon match was an altogether more sporting affair, as the Vikes squared up the day and seized a playoff berth by defeating Beloit 7-2 at home. After the difficult morning meet the ladies were somewhat less sharp than usual, but for the most part straightened out to win their matches handily. The doubles teams all endured a little drama early in their matches. But the No. 2 partnership of Sahar and Klumpner ended up winning their match handily 8-4, and the No. 3 team of Tara Lahtinen and Hanah McCarthy traded games with Beloit before winning 8-5.
Most of the tension was concentrated on court 1, where the No. 1 doubles pair Loni Philbrick-Linzmeyer and Lisa Ritland was trying to dig out of an early 0-3 hole. They pulled off an inspired rally, eventually leading the match 8-7 – this after being 2 points from defeat at 6-7 (0-30). But, sadly, they couldn’t break Beloit’s serve to take the match and lost the tiebreak 7-2 for a final score of 8-9 (2-7).
Elsewhere it was business as usual, as the Vikes took 5 of 6 singles matches, with only Sahar’s victory at No. 3 and Helms’ loss at No. 6 going to three sets. Sahar’s match against Beloit’s Sidra Montgomery (6-2, 4-6, 6-2) was colored somewhat by scoring disputes, which held up the match a few times, and Klumpner’s No. 2 match was punctuated by a rare 5-all second-set tiebreak as the sun set behind the old Fox River Mill Apartments. Klumpner won her match 6-2, 7-5 (7-5). Otherwise, the Vikes dispatched the opposition with relative ease, as McCarthy clinched the meet with her victory at No. 1 singles.
Head coach Peter Nestel, in his first year at the helm, has now led the Vikes to the team conference championships after a long stretch of forgettable seasons. Nestel was diplomatic about the St. Norbert match. “Tennis is an outdoor sport,” he said, “but St. Norbert doesn’t have its own courts.” But he gave his players tremendous credit for their performance this year. “The goal at the start of the season was to make the team championships, and we did that. The girls worked very hard and came together as a team in a rare way, and only very lucky coaches have an opportunity to work with [such a group].”
The ladies faced South Division champs Grinnell in conference semifinal action Friday morning in Rockford, Ill. The other semifinal saw St. Norbert against Lake Forest. This was Lawrence’s first conference berth since the institution of the divisional system in 1999.
On Saturday and Sunday the team was in Madison, competing for individual doubles and singles titles. Friday’s play decided team placement for the top four squads, while the next two days decided championships at each singles and doubles position.
The results of these matches were unavailable at press time.