UMass tennis begins its bid for the Atlantic 10 title

By Arthur Hayden

(Amanda Joinson/Daily Collegian)
(Amanda Joinson/Daily Collegian)

For the Massachusetts women’s tennis team, it all comes down to the next four days in Charlottesville, Virginia. The elusive Atlantic 10 title, which the Minutewomen have never won in their tenure in the A-10, is on the line as the conference tournament begins Thursday.

UMass enters the tournament as the third seed behind the two perennial conference powerhouses, two-time defending champions Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond, which is the only other team to win the title since 2008. The Rams (13-8) earned a first-round bye after trudging through a strikingly difficult out-of-conference schedule and cruising through conference play.

Richmond (11-6) also earned a first-round bye, slipping in front of the Minutewomen into the spot as the No. 2 seed. The seeding committee proved to be forgiving of the eight-time champions, as the Spiders are stumbling into the tournament on a four-match losing streak, three of which were at home. Their only in-conference loss was at the hands of VCU.

UMass enters the tournament as the No. 3 seed and appears to be the team with the best shot to dethrone the historical power duo.

At 14-4, the Minutewomen were bumped out of a bye despite going undefeated in conference and closing out the regular season on a seven-match win streak. With a deep, talented roster and strong doubles play, UMass enters the tournament ready to assert itself as one of the elite teams in the A-10.

“It was many years before we thought we had a chance to win,” UMass coach Judy Dixon said. “This year we have a chance to win. Now it’s just a matter of, can we handle the moment?”

The Minutewomen will face No. 14 seed La Salle Thursday in a match they should handle with ease. The Explorers (0-8) won two exhibition matches in October against Gwynedd Mercy University and Monmouth University, but have failed to secure a victory since.

Assuming the Minutewomen take care of business in round one, their next opponent would be the winner of the No. 6 and 11 seed match-up featuring Duquesne and Saint Joseph’s, respectively. The Dukes (11-8) are the favorites to advance after posting a solid 4-1 conference record. Much of their success this year can be attributed to the stellar play of freshman Kylie Isaacs, who has posted a 14-3 record at No. 1 singles. She and teammate Sarah Shashura also boast a 12-4 doubles record in the No. 1 slot.

“There are a bunch of schools in the middle pack … that are all dangerous” Dixon said, including Duquesne as a part of that list, “Anything can happen.”

Many of the mid-level conference teams have struggled to match the Minutewomen’s depth, which is possibly their greatest asset. UMass has won 80 percent of its No. 4 through No. 6 singles matches this season, while Duquense has won only 47 percent.

If the Minutewomen can prevent an upset, the stage is set for a semifinals match-up with Richmond Saturday, provided the Spiders can right the ship in time for their first round match against the winner of Saint Louis vs. Dayton.

If the two teams do meet on Saturday, it will be a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal, where UMass defeated Richmond (4-1). The Minutewomen lost to eventual champions VCU in the next round, but with the Rams on the other side of the bracket, the only way UMass could play VCU would be in the final.

UMass has appeared in the semifinals in each of the last two seasons, but enters this year with the mindset it has the firepower to break through. It also enters with the conference’s largest winning streak and a roster which Dixon said was the best she’s ever had at UMass.

UMass’ first-round match against La Salle starts at noon Thursday at the Boar’s Head Sports Club in Charlottesville.

Arthur Hayden can be reached at [email protected]