Courtesy of Williams Sports Information
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - The road to National Title #10 was longer, more winding, and at times even seemed less likely than some of the Ephs' more recent championships, but the thrilling journey came to an appropriately climactic conclusion on Wednesday, when the Ephs face the Eagles of Emory University in the National Championship dual for the third consecutive season and sixth time in the two teams' prostigious histories.
The two teams most recent meetings in the national championship match resulted in 5-4 decisions. Williams won two years ago in the 2015 title tilt and Emory captured the title in 2016.
It was only fitting then that the 2017 NCAA Championship would be decided by the same margin, with a three-set match between two of the best Division III singles players in the country to determine who would win the title.
After a rocky start for the Ephs' Juli Raventos, falling behidn 6-1 in the opening set against the Eagles' Bridget Harding, the junior came back firing in the second. The talented Costa Rican established an early lead, and with the second set on her racket at 5-3, the Northeast's second-ranked singles player made no mistake closing out the set to force a deciding set.
With the tide of momentum shifting in favor of Williams, Raventos picked up in the third set where she had left off at the end of the second, again orchestrating an early lead to put all the pressure on the Atlantic South's top-ranked singles player. Down 3-1, Harding held her serve to pull within one game of Raventos. Raventos earned a break point in the next game, and converted it with a cross-court forehand winner that won the Eph her second break of the third set and a chance to serve for the 2017 NCAA team title.
On match point, Raventos hit an inside-in forehand approach shot before coolly placing the subsequent volley into the open court, prompting cheers from the Williams players and fans, as both celebrated the purple and gold's 5-4 triumph and their eighth National Championship in the last decade.
Williams claimed the first two doubles matches off the court, first through Julia Cancio and Emily Zheng's 8-5 win over Paula Castro and Michelle DeMeo on Court 3, then through senior co-captain Hannah Atkinson and her partner, first-year Chloe Henderson's, 8-4 win over Michelle Satterfield and Daniela Lopez on Court 2.
The Ephs had a chance to take a commanding 3-0 lead into singles, but Raventos and her partner, Eph senior co-captain, Linda Shin, were unable to close out their match when they were serving at 7-6. Harding and Katarina Su, proved to be unforgiving of the two Ephs' errors, and they eventually managed to hold serve. With the match level again at 7-7, the Emory pairing took over, and grinded out wins in the next two games as well to put some wind into the Eagles' wings heading into singles.
The first two matches off the court saw the two teams trade points.
First, Castro drew the Eagles level with the Ephs in the dual with her win over Cancio on Court 6. The Eagle senior outlasted the Eph junior in the first-set tiebreaker, 7-2, and then made things more easy for herself in the second set, closing out the match 6-3 to get the Eagles on the board in singles.
Just minutes after the conclusion of the match on Court 6, Mia Gancayco won on Court 5 over Melissa Goodman. The junior renewed the Ephs' one-point advantage with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Goodman to pull the Ephs to within two points of clinching the title.
The next two matches both fell in favor of Emory, as both Eph senior co-captains fell 6-4, 6-4 to their respective opponents, first Atkinson to Lopez, then Shin to Su.
Emory needed only one of the remaining matches on the top two courts.
The Ephs had other ideas, however, as Leah Bush, who had thus far struggled in the 2017 postseason, finally asserted herself on the grandest of stages.
Though the Eph sophomore missed her chance to close out the opening set on Court 2 against Michelle Satterfield when she was serving at 6-5, she quickly made amends in the tiebreaker, producing some magic of her own at 4-4 to win Satterfield's service point. With two serves at 5-4, Bush was near-perfect at closing out the set this time around, winning both of her two service points to take the first-set tiebreaker, 7-4.
Riding her wave of momentum, Bush opened up an early lead in the second set with a break of Sattefield's serve, before the Eagle senior could gather herself after her first-set setback in order to mount a response. Though Satterfield broke back on Bush's serve at 3-1, the energetic Eph sophomore was undaunted, and proceed to break Satterfield again in the very next game, before consolidating it with a service hold to pull within one game of winning the match. Bush proved to be too much, breaking Satterfield's serve for a third time in the second set to level the overall dual at 4-4.
From there, it was all down to Raventos, who more than made up for her doubles mistake, clinching the 2017 NCAA Championship for the Ephs with a three-set win over Harding.
Though the Eph team's remarkable, title-winning season is now over, five players are set to compete in the 2017 NCAA Individual Singles and Doubles Championships that start on Thursday. In singles, both Raventos and Bush will compete tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. against Wiktoria Plawska from Lewis and Clark College and Lauren O'Malley from John Carroll College respectively. In doubles, Raventos and Shin will start their back-to-back NCAA title defense against Megan Humphreys and Bridgid McGuire from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, alongside teammates Atkinson and Henderson, who will take on Brooke Donnely and Tessa Hill from Washington and Lee University. The first round of doubles matches will follow the conclusion of the first two rounds of singles later in the afternoon.
Williams 5, Emory 4
- Harding, Bridget/Su, Katarina (EMORY) def. Raventos, Juli/Shin, Linda (WILLIAMS) 9-7
- Atkinson, Hannah/Henderson, Chloe (WILLIAMS) def. Lopez, Daniela/Satterfield, Michelle (EMORY) 8-4
- Cancio, Julia/Zheng, Emily (WILLIAMS) def. Catstro, Paula/DeMeo, Michelle (EMORY) 8-5
- Raventos, Juli (WILLIAMS) def. Harding, Bridget (EMORY) 1-6, 6-3, 6-2
- Bush, Leah (WILLIAMS) def. Satterfield, Michelle (EMORY) 7-6(4), 6-2
- Lopez, Daniela (EMORY) def. Atkinson, Hannah (WILLIAMS) 6-4, 6-4
- Su, Katarina (EMORY) def. Shin, Linda (WILLIAMS) 6-4, 6-4
- Gancayco, Mia (WILLIAMS) def. Goodman, Melissa (EMORY) 6-3, 6-2
- Castro, Paula (EMORY) def. Cancio, Julia (WILLIAMS) 7-6(2), 6-3
Order of Finish:
Doubles – 3, 2, 1
Singles – 6, 5, 3, 4, 2, 1
Williams: 20-4, nationally ranked #4, regionally ranked #2 (Northeast)
Emory: 17-7, nationally ranked #3, regionally ranked #1 (Atlantic South)