No. 6 Women’s Tennis Poised to Make Run in NCAA Division III Regional Tournament

MEDFORD, Mass. – Hosting an NCAA Regional Tournament is always exciting. 

"It is amazing to have the honor of hosting an NCAA Regional Tournament this year," Tufts University women's tennis head coach Kate Bayard said. "We are all very appreciative for everything that the Tufts Athletics department is putting into this. We are going to take it one match at a time and do our best to represent the Jumbos."

Otilia Popa went 13-7 in doubles during the 2017 spring season.

The No. 6-ranked Tufts University women's tennis team will host a six-team NCAA Division III Regional Tournament at Voute Courts in Medford, Massachusetts, on Friday-Sunday, and if inclement weather moves into the area, some days of the tournament may need to take place at the Bass River Tennis Club, which is located on 31 Tozer Road in Beverly, Massachusetts. 

The five teams making the road trip include No. 14 Johns Hopkins (17-5, 10-0 in Centennial Conference), Ithaca (13-7, 8-0 in Empire 8 Athletic Conference), Nichols (16-3, 8-0 in Commonwealth Coast Conference), No. 32 TCNJ (14-3, 6-0 in NJAC) and Baruch (11-5, 6-0 in CUNYAC).

Tufts (14-6, 6-3 in NESCAC) and Johns Hopkins earned first-round byes, as the Jumbos are making their 16th appearance on the national stage in the last 17 seasons and Johns Hopkins is making its 11th consecutive appearance in the tournament. 

Ithaca is joining the big dance for the 11th time in program history, while Nichols qualified for the prestigious event for the first time since 2011. TCNJ earned an automatic bid into the tournament, by virtue of winning its 34th straight New Jersey Athletic Conference title, and Baruch is in the national spotlight for the second time in program history. 

"I think it is a great opportunity to see some new teams, who we have not already played this year," Bayard said. "I know any team that makes it into the tournament has had a lot of success this year so far, so we are expecting all teams to be tough."

In first-day action on Friday, Ithaca and Nichols will open up the tournament, competing in head-to-head action at 10 a.m., and then TCNJ will face off with Baruch at 1:30 p.m. 

The Jumbos will play the winner of the Ithaca and Nichols matchup during second-round action Saturday at 10 a.m., and then Johns Hopkins will take the court against either TCNJ or Baruch at 1:30 p.m. The two winners of the second-round tilts will meet in the final of the event on Sunday at 1 p.m., with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals of the national tournament on May 22.

The Jumbos' well-rounded roster should put them in good shape to be successful. The evidence for this statement is simple: All 11 Jumbos, who competed during the 2017 spring semester, boasted a winning record in overall action. 

Leading the way for the Jumbos were sophomore Mina Karamercan (13-6 singles, 9-11 doubles), junior Lauren Louks (12-7 singles, 11-8 doubles), senior captain Conner Calabro (14-3 singles, 10-7 doubles), senior captain Alexa Meltzer (12-4 singles, 2-2 doubles), freshman Katherine Wiley (11-6 singles, 7-7 doubles), sophomore Otilia Popa (13-7 doubles), sophomore Tomo Iwasaki (11-7 doubles, 6-7 singles), sophomore Julia Keller (5-2 singles, 2-2 doubles), senior Chelsea Hayashi (4-0 singles), senior Jacqueline Baum (3-1 doubles) and junior Zoe Miller (1-0 singles).

"We have a super tight team this year," Bayard said. "I believe that can make the difference in the closer matches."

The Jumbos' success runs deep in the national spotlight, as the team has compiled a 17-15 mark in the tournament, dating back to the 2000-01 season. The program won at least one match in its previous nine appearances on the national stage. 

The 2010-11 version of the Jumbos went on a long tournament run, advancing to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The group swept Hunter, 5-0, in the second round, and then downed Johns Hopkins, 5-1, during the regional final in Lutherville, Maryland. The unit ultimately fell, 5-1, to New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC)-rival Amherst during the quarterfinals in Claremont, California. 

The 2016-17 Jumbos are expected to make some noise in the tournament as well.

"We have had the goal to go far in the NCAA Tournament since the start of the season," Popa said. "The home-court advantage will definitely give us a lot of confidence. The key this weekend will be playing with a lot of heart and staying focused, no matter what our opponents throw at us."

Not only do the Jumbos have a rich history in the tournament, but the 2016-17 version of the squad was severely battle-tested with a tough conference slate in the highly-talented and deep NESCAC, as No. 8 Bowdoin, No. 2 Middlebury and No. 4 Williams are also hosting regional events. Seventh-ranked Wesleyan (Conn.) and No. 12 Amherst also qualified for the tournament. 

The Jumbos' regular-season conference triumphs during the 2017 season, include defeating Amherst, Wesleyan, Bates, Colby, Hamilton and Trinity (Conn.). The Jumbos went 8-3 in their out-of-conference schedule, including opening the spring with a 5-1 record in March, with all five wins being against ranked opponents. 

"We need to trust all of the hard work we have put in all year and continue to focus on staying in the moment," Bayard said. "Doubles will be the key, since it sets the tone for the overall match, and can be the difference in the close matches."

In these highly-contested and pivotal matches, the team that hits first is usually the last one standing. The Jumbos are 12-0 this spring when leading after doubles action.

"We need to come out aggressive in doubles and execute the basics that we have been working on all year," Bayard said. "Heading into singles, we need to be willing to be out there as along as each point, each game and each match takes. We need patience, smart decisions and trust in our shots when aggressive."

Written by Trevor Wenners, Athletic Communications Intern