|Zoe Miller with Lauren Louks and Julia Keller are tri-captains of the Jumbos|
MEDFORD - After narrowly missing a berth into the NCAA Quarterfinals last season, the Tufts University women's tennis team looks to continue as a contender on the national level as the 2018 spring season starts this weekend.
Head coach Kate Bayard's Jumbos are ranked seventh in the Intercollegiate Tennis Associaiton (ITA) national poll heading into their first match of the spring at home against #4 Middlebury College on Saturday at the Gantcher Center. Last season, Tufts earned the right to host an NCAA Regional and lost 5-4 to Johns Hopkins in the third round. They have graduated five players who were contributors to the 2016-17 team that finished with a 15-7 record. However, more than enough talent returns to make the Jumbos a team to be reckoned with this spring.
Junior All-American Mina Karamercan was ill during last year's NCAA Regional, forcing her to retire from her #1 singles match versus Johns Hopkins after sitting out in #1 doubles. She went on to play in the NCAA Division III Singles Championshp and finished 2017 as the #21 ranked singles player in DIII. An All-NESCAC first team selection in singles for each of her two seasons, she returns as one of the top players in the competitive conference.
Louks also returns as a force in the top part of the singles line-up. As a sophomore in 2016, she became Tufts' first singles All-American since 2013. She also advanced to the round of 16 at the NCAA Singles Championship that spring and was All-NESCAC first team. Louks has played at the #1 or #2 singles spots in each of the last two seasons for the Jumbos after starting at #3 as a freshman.
Karamercan and Louks have enjoyed great success as a doubles pair as well. They have earned All-Conference honors together for each of the last two seasons and were doubles All-Americans in 2016 when they advance to the quarterfinals at the NCAA Doubles Championship. In the ITA's Doubles national rankings released after the 2017 fall season, the Tufts duo are the #23 tandem in Division III.
Junior Tomo Iwasaki has held down a starting spot since her freshman season. Kat Wiley earned a starting role right out of the gate as a freshman last year. Both Iwasaki and Wiley were doubles starters last season as well. Junior Julia Keller had a 9-2 record in singles action last season and senior tri-captain Zoe Miller also has starting singles experience. Junior Otilia Popa was a mainstay at #2 doubles last season, primarily with Iwasaki and Wiley. Newcomers Patricia Obeid and Kiara Rose will likely make an immediate impact in both the singles and doubles line-ups.
"The team came back ready after the off-season, which shows they are willing to put in the work," head coach Kate Bayard said. "Our doubles is starting to come together, which is very exciting. As always, doubles will be key, and this year we have more options with our doubles teams. We are doing what we can to solidify the doubles teams early in the season so that each team has the whole season to grow together. For doubles, we have focused a lot on our own positioning, movement, and confidence at net, as well as shot selection based on more awareness of our opponents' positioning. We are starting to see the work pay off in practice. The next step is translating it into the matches."
The Jumbos' will be tested on a national level every week as a member of NESCAC. The conference has been home to 11 NCAA women's tennis champions since 1999, including 10 won by defending national champion Williams College. In the most recent ITA national poll, the Jumbos are one of six conference teams in the top 11 (Williams #2, Middlebury #4, Bowdoin #5, Wesleyan #8 and Amherst #11).
After Saturday's opener at home against Middlebury, the Jumbos play at #25 Wellesley College on Sunday. The team will then make its annual spring break trip to California, where the schedule includes three of the top 10 teams in the nation.
"We have our work cut out for us in terms of our schedule," Coach Bayard said. "We play every team in the top eight in the country, plus the #10 and #11 teams. In addition, we also have the #19, 21, 25, and 29 ranked teams on our schedule. Rest and recovery will be key with such a challenging schedule. We plan to learn from each match so we can continue to improve as the season progresses."