Williams women’s tennis team begins bid for seventh straight NCAA title


WILLIAMSTOWN -- Since 2008, every freshman class of the Williams College women’s tennis team has won three consecutive NCAA Division III championships. The Class of 2014 hopes to make it four consecutive freshman classes to go 4 for 4 in the NCAAs.

"Coming in as a freshman, it’s something I never ever thought about. I took each year one step at a time," said Kara Shoemaker, one of the Ephs’ senior co-captains.

Williams will get a chance to win its eighth NCAA Division III championship and seventh in a row over the next couple of weeks. The journey begins on Friday as Williams hosts a six-team regional tournament.

The Ephs, who finished the regular season 19-2 and rank ed third nationally, earn ed a first-round bye along with Liberty League champion Skidmore. If Williams gets out of the regional, the Ephs will head for Claremont-Mudd-Scripps College in Cali fornia to play for a seventh straight national title.

And to think that Williams has accomplished with someone who coached her first college match in her first match with Williams.

Alison Swain, a former Williams tennis standout herself, took over for Julie Green wood in 2008 and has done nothing but win NCAA titles.

"That’s a really hard thing for me to wrap my head around," Swain said, when asked about the championship streak. "Each group is a different group. Each year is a different year.

"I love these girls and I love each team for its own merits. This year, we’re on our own journey."

Swain played for Green wood, who herself was an Eph All-American, and was a member of the first NCAA Division III championship team in 2001.

In winning six titles, Will iams has beaten Emory and Am herst twice each, along with the University of Chi cago and Washington and Lee. Swain’s Ephs have been all over the country to claim their titles. They have gone from St. Peter, Minn., to Lawrence ville, Ga., and from Clare mont, Calif., to Kalamazoo, Mich. -- where they beat Emory in 2013.

The coach doesn’t like to talk about the streak. And while the players and their coaches appreciate the history, they try not to dwell on it.

"You can’t look at it entirely as repeating," Swain said. "We do have, in our back pocket, that we do know how to play well under pressure in a way that no other team in the country does right now. We can’t rely on that and you can’t wait for it to kick in."

Despite six national titles, the Ephs haven’t gone through a season undefeated. Williams was perfect this year until April 19, when the Ephs lost 7-2 to Little Three rival Amherst. The Lord Jeffs repeated that in the NESCAC Tournament final, beating Williams 5-1.

Those losses are painful, because they were against Williams’ rival. But they don’t cause the Ephs to rewrite the script.

"In the past, we have proven the ability to step up during the postseason," said senior co-captain Kathleen Elkins, who along with Shoe maker, will also be competing for an individual NCAA championship. "I think that adds to our excitement every year.

"We love competing during the regular season and in the fall season, when there is not a national championship to look forward to. We really thrive during postseason play, and I think this is when we get the most excited."

Elkins and Shoemaker will play singles as individuals, while Shoemaker and partner Rebecca Curran are entered in the doubles competition.

Williams won’t see Amherst again until a potential re match in the national semifinals. Williams beat Amherst in 2009 and 2011 for the national championship and hasn’t lost to the Lord Jeffs in the NCAAs since 2004.

The loss in the NESCAC final gave Swain and her team an opportunity to reset things and prepare for the "second season."

"It’s all about how you take it," said Swain. "If we can take a lessons from the loss and move very positively into the NCAA Tournament, that’s the best thing. "We need to hold that loss and learn the lesson from it, but not harp on it and not let it effect our confidence.

"We lost to Amherst in the regular season and we lost to them in the tournament. We have a lot to do to be able to beat a team at that level in the next week."

To reach Howard Herman:
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman


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