Despite weariness from extended travel delays, the No. 12 Westmont women’s tennis team (11-10) picked up a 6-3 win over No. 25 Mobile (12-6) in the first round of the NAIA National Tournament in Mobile, Ala.
The Warriors advance to second-round action Tuesday, taking on a familiar foe in No. 3 Azusa Pacific at 9 a.m.
The players’ travel plans to the national tournament were interrupted when their Friday morning flight from Orange County to Mobile was delayed by one hour, meaning they would miss their connection in Houston. American Airlines rerouted the team to Los Angeles International Airport to catch a 12:30 a.m. flight on Delta Airlines. When they tried to board, the gate agent would not allow the team on the airplane with American Airlines tickets.
The road-weary Warriors went to a nearby hotel, where they managed 1½ hours of sleep before returning to LAX for a flight to Birmingham, Ala. Upon their arrival, everyone piled into two taxi cabs for a 4½-hour trip to the Mobile Regional Airport to pick up luggage and rental cars. It was 7:30 p.m. Saturday when the team arrived at the hotel.
“The team handled the changes well,” junior team captain Kristen Lee said. “The sleepless nights, and just moving place to place, took its toll on us. But the team handled it well emotionally. Yesterday at practice we were out of it, but today we were a lot more aware.”
With the journey behind them, the Warriors finally got to do what it came to do – compete in the national tournament. Westmont jumped out to a 2-1 lead by winning at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles.
Westmont freshman Ilissa Mathews and senior Jennie Dunn cruised past the Rams’ Mayra Leal and Pam Boykin to pick up the first team point with an 8-3 victory on the No. 2 court. At No. 3, juniors Christina Klein and Kristen Lee fell behind early and found themselves facing a 3-1 deficit.
“Christina and I started off slow,” Lee said. “We were nervous and really tight. Christina wasn’t poaching quite as much, and I wasn’t setting up my shots as well as I could have been. We figured out that our opponents really liked the balls that were in their wheel house and they hit solid shots off of them. But if you get just 2 or 3 inches of spin above or below their sweet spot, they couldn’t handle them at all. So we mixed it up with drop shots, lobbing and kick serving into the body – that was the treasure right there.”
Mobile’s point came on the No. 1 court where the Rams’ Josy Soares and Claudia Borges defeated Westmont freshmen Lauren Combs and Erin McGurty 8-2. “It was such a good feeling to be up 2-1 after doubles,” Westmont head coach Kathy LeSage said. “We were where we wanted to be and then the bottom of the (singles) lineup took over.”
Lee, playing at No. 4 singles, was the first to finish her match. The junior gave Westmont a 3-1 lead with an easy 6-0, 6-1 victory over Machen. But Mobile moved back to within a point when Soares picked up a 6-3, 6-0 win on the No. 1 court over Combs.
At No. 6 singles, Dunn restored the Westmont advantage to two points with a 6-0, 6-4 victory over Hovden. “The first set was easy for me,” Dunn said. “I had good returns and good serves. In the second, I was up 5-2, then lost the next two games out of nervousness. I put too much pressure on myself to make it a clean, good match, which is really hard against my opponents’ type of game. Kathy came over and talked with me and we both realized that a pretty game didn’t matter. I just needed to play my game.”
“It is really great to be here my senior year,” Dunn said of the opportunity to play at nationals in her final collegiate season. “It’s the best gift that my team could have given me. I get to extend the Westmont experience by a little bit.”
Up 4-2, Westmont needed just one more match to secure the victory. But the three remaining contests were getting closer by the minute. At No. 3, McGurty roared back from a 2-6 loss to Boykin in the first set to reverse the score in the second set and force a third. Meanwhile, Mathews was mounting a comeback of her own at No.2, where she lost the first set 6-1 to Borges but trailed just 5-4 in set two. At No. 5, Klein, who had won the first set 6-0, was trying to hold off Leal, who surged back to make the score 4-3 in the second set.
The match at No. 2 ended first when Borges defeated Mathews to win the second set 6-4 and claim a third point for Mobile – making the team score 4-3. “In the first set, my opponent got a lot more winners,” Mathews said. “I think she was just outsmarting me. But in the second set, I noticed a weakness – her backhand. I just kept targeting that place.”
The drama ended when Klein claimed a 6-3 win in the second set on court five, giving Westmont the team victory. “It was a good match,” Klein said. “I had a lot easier time in the first set. She wasn’t doing much, so I just had to serve and volley. In the second set, she started to approach more and come into the net. I needed to keep more focus, and I had a lot more trouble doing that in the second set. But I think I played well.”
McGurty then capped off the event by winning the third set at No. 3 by a score of 6-3. “With all the traveling, my game was a little bit off in the first set,” McGurty said. “I accepted that and made an adjustment in my game to not try to go for anything huge but just stay consistent and play my game. That worked throughout the next two sets.”
“I was really proud of Erin for winning that match,” LeSage said. “She has had a couple of other three-set matches this year, which she lost. That was her first three-set win. It’s nice to peak at the right time. It punctuates the win.”
“We won were I thought we would,” the coach continued. “Mobile had tough opponents at the No. 1 and 2 singles and doubles positions. Ilissa held up pretty well at No. 2 and started to get it together but just a little too late. I knew they would be a good opponent. They have a good record, but it doesn’t match up with the kind of schedule we have in California.”
With a 6-3 win by No. 16 Point Loma Nazarene over No. 17 Point Loma Nazarene, the Golden State Athletic Conference will advance six teams to Tuesday’s second-round matches, which consist of 16 teams. The Sea Lions will take on top-ranked Auburn Montgomery (30-0). In addition to Westmont and Azusa Pacific, the other GSAC teams competing Tuesday are No. Fresno Pacific, No. 5 Vanguard and No. 6 California Baptist.
Ron Smith is Westmont College‘s sports information director.
NAIA National Tournament Round One – Westmont 6 Mobile 3
No. 1 – Josy Soares (UM) def. Lauren Combs (WC) 6-3, 6-0
No. 2 – Claudia Borges (UM) def. Ilissa Mathews (WC) 6-1, 6-1
No. 3 – Erin McGurty (WC) def. Pam Boykin (UM) 2-6, 6-2, 6-3
No. 4 – Kristen Lee (WC) def. Michelle Machen (UM) 6-0, 6-1
No. 5 – Christina Klein (WC) def. Mayra Leal (UM) 6-0, 6-3
No. 6 – Jennie Dunn (WC) def. Camilla Hovden (UM) 6-0, 6-4
No. 1 – Josy Soares/Claudia Borges (UM) def. Lauren Combs/Erin McGurty (WC) 8-2
No. 2 – Jennie Dunn/Ilissa Mathews (WC) def. Mayra Leal/Pam Boykin (UM) 8-3
No. 3 – Christina Klein/Kristen Lee (WC) def. Camilla Hovden/Michelle Machen (UM) 8-4