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May 8, 2017

UMass tennis takes Atlantic 10 Championship over VCU

Anna Woosley played a match against Fordham at Tennis Courts in UMass Amherst on April 23th, Sunday. (Jong Man Kim/Daily Collegian)

A storybook-like season for the Massachusetts tennis team continued Sunday as they punched their ticket to the 2017 NCAA Tournament with a 4-2 victory over the four-time defending conference champion Virginia Commonwealth Rams in the Atlantic 10 Championship.

The Minutewomen (12-7, 4-0 A-10) clinched the win with a come from behind victory by senior  in number four singles. Woosley dropped her first set 6-4, and then was able to tie the match up in the second set, winning 6-2.

It all came down to the third set where Woosley led 3-1. VCU (16-9, 4-0 A-10) senior Darya Berezhnaya was able to fight back and tie things up at 3-3 after Woosley hit the top of the net on a return.

However, with Woosley up 5-3, and the game tied at 40-40, Woolsey played the ball backhanded and Berezhnaya returned it out of bounds, sealing the championship for the Minutewomen. Woosley’s teammates rushed the court in celebration after the game-winning point.

“When I missed that volley on the top of the net, I knew I would regret that volley for the rest of my life if I didn’t win that point, and I was just like please god, if there is a god, please let me win this point,” said an emotional Woosley after the match. “We’ve put so much into this and this is all of our dreams, because it’s not very often that we get to the women’s championship so it means the world to us.”

This is the first time since 2001 that UMass has won the Atlantic-10 women’s championship. It was something that was on the mind of Woosley and her fellow teammates all season given the way the last two seasons have ended.

UMass lost two years ago in the Atlantic 10 Championship match to the Rams and were knocked out in the first round of the conference tournament last season at the hands of George Washington after being seeded second.

Veterans coming through in the clutch was the story of the afternoon for the Minutewomen, as fellow senior Brittany Collens fought back in number three singles, winning two straight sets after dropping the first 7-6, to put UMass up 3-2, and setting Woosley up for the game deciding match.

Singles play turned out to be the deciding factor for the Minutewomen after dropping two of the three doubles matches. Ruth Crawford and Woosley dropped their match 6-3, and Ana Yrazusta and Janja Kovacevic lost 6-4. Collens and Laura Moreno did not finish their doubles match.

“This meant everything to us,” coach Judy Dixon told ESPN after the match. “After last year’s finish, we just had it in our heads that we needed to push and push this year. This team has fought all year at every moment. Whether we won 4-3 or lost 4-3, there isn’t one time where I have had to say ‘pick it up.’ Today I think it was all about them believing in themselves. From two years ago, especially from the seniors who were there then, their belief stemmed from that match. The people who came through today are the ones who have done it all year long. To me, this is truly a team victory because everyone fought so hard today.”

The championship match came after victories in the previous two rounds, a 4-0 win over Fordham on Saturday and a 4-1 win over Duquesne on Thursday.

The win was particularly emotional for the Minutewomen given the fact that they knew this could have been the final match for their Hall of Fame head coach. Dixon announced in Sept. that she would be retiring after this season, and has declined to comment on it until the season is completely over.

It appears as though that time has been put on pause as UMass will now wait and see where they will be seeded for the NCAA tournament, which will begin this weekend, with the pairings and sites being announced on Tuesday.

Jake Mackey can be reached at jacobmackey@umass.edu.

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