My name is Paulo Camacho, and this is Macho Sports.
March 4th, 2011. The UC Davis Women’s Tennis Team was set to face off against the UOP Tigers. It was an especially cloudy day, with no real threat of a rain-out. That didn’t bode well for the Tigers – after all, at 3-4, and facing their first conference opponent, it was unclear how they would come out. As for the Aggies, they were enjoying their best start in decades. UC Davis was 9-2, having only lost to the Sun Devils of Arizona State and the Stanford Cardinal – two high-powered Pac-10 programs.
To a discreet, yet dedicated, audience of people, the two tennis teams gathered at Center Court. Both teams were refreshingly cordial, as the starting lineups were introduced. UC Davis head coach Bill Maze and Pacific head coach Bob Chiene did the honors in presenting their starters. Afterwards, the Aggies gathered together, and let out their traditional pregame cheer:
“U … C … D … AGS!!!”
The participants then went to their designated tennis courts to begin the match.
College team tennis is a fairly different animal than the professional tennis events most would see on television. First of all, points are accumulated in a best-of-seven format, based on singles and doubles matches played. Teams play six singles matches, with each victory accounting for one point. Doubles matches, however, are scored differently: the team that wins two out of the three doubles matches would come away with the crucial doubles point.
“[It’s] slightly confusing for the viewing public, but you only get one point for winning,” Maze explained. “That doubles point is huge; against a tough team, where it’s going to be close, it’s much easier to win three out of the six singles than it is to win four out of the six singles to win the overall match.”
Apparently, this aspect of Division I tennis has been a point of contention for years. “Division II actually counts every one of the doubles matches as a point, so you could be up 3-0 after the doubles,” Maze said. “The argument is that, if you win all three doubles matches, and you’re up 3-0, there’s just too much of an advantage when you go into the singles.”
The day’s play began with three doubles matches, that were held simultaneously. “They are eight-game pro-sets, meaning the first doubles team to win eight games wins that match,” Maze explained.
The Aggies’ star player, freshman Megan Heneghan, and No. 2 starter Kelly Chui went up against an imposing duo in Pacific’s Jennifer Widjaja and Julia Hansen. Widjaja, a senior from Sao Roque, Brazil, was recently a ranked player on the WTA, before playing for UOP. Hansen, a sophomore from Hamburg, Germany, an impressive singles player moving up in the ranks on the team. Meanwhile, sophomore and No. 3 starter Ellie Edles teamed up with freshman Nicole Koehly, as they faced off against Shabby Eslami, a freshman from San Marcos, California, and Summer Irvin, a junior out of Brisbane, Australia. Then, on Court 3, it was the veteran team of Lauren Curry and Dahra Zamudio going against senior Olga Gumenyuk, from Kiev, Ukraine, and freshman Susan Te, returning to her hometown of Davis as a member of the lady Tigers.
The match got off to a rough start, as Heneghan and Chui fell behind early to the veteran team of Widjaja and Hansen, 4-0. The young Aggie duo looked to be overmatched against their more experienced counterparts, as error-prone play and superior placement by UOP knocked them out of the first doubles match, 8-2.
Despite the setback, the Aggies were still in control of the event, as the other two teams won their matches against Pacific, each with a final score of 8-5. Edles and Koehly cruised to their three-point win after taking the early lead, 4-1.
Meanwhile, the rest of the team tried to give Heneghan and Chui encouragement after the doubles defeat. Leading the way was Senior Shawdee Rouhafza. While this is her last year on the team, she was more than happy to root for her teammates to victory.
“You’re seeing that everyone is doing so well, [and] it’s actually boosting the team to be out there cheering for them,” Rouhafza said, proudly. “It’s a sense of Aggie pride … It’s not too bad, chilling on the sidelines, watching them win. It’s great.”
It was a critical point to win at the time, going into the singles matches. Heneghan and Chui looked to bounce back from their doubles loss, and a split between the six singles matches would earn them the overall victory. Early on, however, things were not looking good – Heneghan, Zamudio, Koehly and Curry all fell behind early, giving new life to UOP. Heneghan lost her first set, 1-6, to the veteran Widjaja; Zamudio ultimately lost her first set to Hansen, 4-6; and Curry was dominated by the Davis native Te, 2-6. As the first set losses were piling up, things began looking bleak for the Aggies.
However, Edles and Chui led the way with their easy victories. Edles dominated Eslami in her match, winning in straight sets. Chui also won in straight sets against Irwin. Combined, Edles and Chui lost a mere three games to their Tiger counterparts. With their singles matches over, they sat out to cheer on the rest of the Aggies, as they needed one more victory to seal the win.
Heneghan’s struggles continued against her senior equivalent in Widjaja, and it was clear that she was frustrated. While she ultimately lost to the former WTA player, Coach Maze was adamant in keeping his No. 1 starter calm and collected throughout the match.
“Tennis is as mental as any other sport, and maybe more so,” Maze explained. “The players have to feel good mentally, as well as physically. They talk to me about their matches, and what’s going on [in] their head, and I try to give them some good advice.”
And, so, it came down to Lauren Curry, Dahra Zamudio and Nicole Koehly to clinch their eighth straight victory. The match was still up in the air, with UOP putting the pressure on a battling Aggies squad.
“You came to a good one,” Maze replied, late in the event.
Zamudio took the second set from Hansen, 6-4, giving new life to the team. Curry, a sophomore out of Walnut Creek, California, also battled back in the second set, 6-2, taking momentum into the third and deciding set. It seemed that Curry had her opponent right where she wanted her.
“I’ve always preferred singles,” Curry admitted. “Singles is much more of a thinking game; trying to figure out my opponent. That’s my thing.”
As Curry’s momentum built to a crescendo in the third set, it was Nicole Koehly who would do the honors of dispatching the Tigers, and sealing the victory. After winning the first set in a tiebreak, 7-6, she finished off Olga Gumenyuk in the second set, 6-3. As the attention turned to Curry and her final set against Te, many members of the team gathered at center court to wrap up the event. Curry finished strong, defeating Te, 6-1, in the third set. With their eighth straight victory, the Aggies were further convinced that they were poised to make a splash in women’s tennis, in the coming months.
“We have a bunch of new freshmen and we all really want it this year,” said Curry. “I think we have a good shot at taking home the prize. There is definitely a lot of fire on the team.”
“We’re excited about how we’ve been playing, and we realize we can’t go on forever,” Maze added. “But, we’re enjoying the win streak, and hopefully we can keep it rolling for a little while longer.”