This post was written by Hatchet reporter Aaron Esparza.
Coming into the 2014 spring season, the women’s tennis team was picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10 – smashed in between Massachusetts at No. 3 and Fordham at No. 5.
With a 5-2 win against the Minutemen and a 4-1 win against the Rams this weekend, the Colonials showed that preseason votes are not going to decide their season’s fate.
Carrying momentum from its first win – a 6-1 performance against UMBC – GW looked like more than a conference contender this weekend.
In the conference opener against UMass, a combined effort from the doubles pairs of senior Isabella Escobar and freshman Taylor Nederlander, as well as freshman Grace Egger and sophomore Lana Robins, took care of the doubles point with 8-5 and 8-6 wins, respectively.
From this early spark, the team took control of the singles matches, grabbing 4 wins and 2 losses to secure the 5-2 win.
Even more exciting, for the team’s long-term hopes, was the return of sophomore Stephanie Wei after a three game hiatus due to injury. Wei and senior Leah Pascarella looked fresh in their doubles match, leading 7-5 before it went unfinished, but Wei would go on to lose her first singles match of the season, 3-6, 2-6.
With just Saturday to rest, the team traveled to face Fordham Sunday, in many ways repeating the same game plan they executed against the Minutemen.
The newfound strength in doubles continued as the duo of Robins and Egger again dominated in an 8-1 performance, while the team of Pascarella and Wei looked even more comfortable en route to an 8-2 win.
The Colonials finished singles play with three more victories, all of them coming in convincing straight sets. The most impressive: Egger’s perfect 6-0, 6-0 match in the No. 6 slot. Egger would be one of four Colonials to win both her singles matches on the weekend, along with Robins, Pascarella and Nederlander.
Explaining this dramatic turnaround, head coach Greg Munoz cited the recent “top form” Pascarella has shown for the team in competition, as well as the emotional lift that Wei’s return has brought to the lineup.
Despite the excitement from the weekend, it was not that long ago that this team was desperate for its first win. Munoz believes that the team’s new direction is setting them on the right path to accomplish their preseason goals of being a top three seed and making it to the A-10 finals.
Standing in the way are 16 more equally important regular season matches, with one date in particular – April 6 – standing out to the Colonials.
It’s not the start of the A-10 tournament, but instead, just a regular season matchup against conference-rival Richmond. To Munoz, who is still figuring out the women’s conference in his first year as head coach, he knows how much of a milestone a win against the Spiders would be.
“If we can show that we can beat Richmond that says a lot about the women’s program,” Munoz said.
GW was defeated by Richmond in the A-10 quarterfinals two seasons ago and lost to them 5-2 in a regular season match last year. Before VCU’s A-10 Championship win last season, the Spiders had won four consecutive conference titles.
To be successful against powerhouses like Richmond, GW will need the continued contributions and leadership from its only two upperclassmen: co-captain seniors Isabella Escobar and Leah Pascarella.
Additionally, the Colonials will need to continue their recent success in doubles play. Munoz, knowing the importance doubles has in setting the tone for each match, has transferred his strategy from the men’s team of focusing on the doubles point. The women have slowly adapted this style of play to the point that it has “become a real strength” Munoz declared.
Although their record (3-3) may not sound too intimidating, this women’s tennis team has already shown they can handle adversity, with the abrupt head coaching transition being almost unnoticeable. Don’t be surprised to find this team competing for a top spot in the conference standings and making noise come late April.
Next on the schedule is a back-to-back home stand against Saint Louis and Towson, March 10 and 11. They will be the first matches at the newly refurbished GW Tennis Center for either tennis team this season.