STEUBENVILLE - Under cloudy skies, the Franciscan University women's tennis team took the first step toward defending their 2016 AMCC title, in a 5-4 loss to Westminster College characterized by resilience and immediate player compatibility. Without graduated seniors Claire Haddad and Erin Coyne, the Lady Barons' fresh identity began to materialize on a frigid Friday afternoon.
New No. 1 doubles duo Maria Binette and Madelyn Conrad quickly gelled on the court, en route to their 8-2 victory. The pair raced to a lead within minutes on the first court, and behind sophomore Conrad's dominant net play, quickly put the match out of reach. Now in her junior year, Binette demonstrated poise at the baseline, keeping her opponent's honest with several topspin-laden passing shots.
No. 2 doubles also sported a new look. Junior Julia Razook and sophomore Gracie Hammel looked to overwhelm their opponent with a combination of sheer groundstroke velocity and aggressive net play but found points hard to come by as the match reached its latter stages. The pair went down 3-0 to their Westminster counterparts, at times finding deep groundstrokes difficult to counter. Hammel found ample opportunities to finish points at the net, but Franciscan couldn't overcome a slow start and surrendered an 8-4 loss.
It was the image of confidence at No. 3 doubles, as senior captain Emmy Mathias and junior Taranee Karimpour never wavered during their quick 8-0 win. Their on-court chemistry lent itself to an early 3-0 lead, and behind Karimpour's steady ground strokes and Mathias' punctual volleys, No. 3 doubles was the first off the court with the win.
Up 2-1 after the conclusion of doubles play, the women next took the courts for singles. At the No. 2 spot, Binette looked a year older and more decisive on the court, impressing with solid inside-out forehands and deep strokes. Smart tennis kept her in the first set late, but she was unable to capitalize on a tiebreak opportunity and lost 7-6 (3), 6-0.
At No. 6 singles, Mathias found herself in a battle of consistency. Outlasting her opponent's groundstrokes, the captain delivered solid service returns from the match's onset and closed out points on her own terms. She rode a 6-0 first set sweep to a quick 2-1 second set lead, and successfully slowed down her opponent's game down the stretch, redirecting pace deep into the Westminster court. Mathias was first off the court, after a 6-2 second set victory.
After Karimpour's 6-1, 6-4 victory at No. 5 singles demonstrated her characteristic even-keel mentality and positive mental game, eyes turned to Hammel's highly-contested No. 3 singles match. Often overwhelming her opponent with power, Hammel still found herself sending shots long, particularly on her backhand side. A newfound slice backhand return was a highlight during her 6-4, 6-3 loss, as was a series of terrific approach shots. Despite the unfavorable result, the sophomore's characteristic power will undoubtedly prove beneficial down the stretch.
In her first match since her return from an Austrian semester abroad, Razook showed poise and promise at the No.4 singles spot. A 6-3, 6-3 loss notwithstanding, she found service consistency down the stretch and looks to rediscover penetrative groundstrokes as the season progresses.
After 8 matches, the Lady Barons found themselves tied with Westminster, 4-4. Last on the court was sophomore Madelyn Conrad, locked in a battle at No. 1 singles. Conrad brought the house, sending groundstrokes deep, finishing points at the net, and often angling her opponent off the court. Up 4-2 in the first, Conrad found herself at the short end of a 7-6(4) tiebreaker at the set's conclusion. Things remained close during the second set, and with her team watching, she accrued a 4-3 lead. Two tight games didn't go her way, and down 5-4 after the changeover, Conrad fell just a few points short of leveling the match at 5-5, instead of going down 6-4.
Despite the closely contested 5-4 loss, head coach Scott Greve couldn't be happier with his player's respective performances, especially in their first match, amidst frigid temperatures. The Lady Barons next take the courts Monday, September 4, in a highly anticipated match against conference opponent Penn St.-Altoona. Doubles play begins at 1:00 p.m.