By Spencer MacDonald
Smiling, and soaking wet from the cooler of water that had just been dumped on him, Kalamazoo College Women’s Tennis Coach Mark Murphy celebrated along with his team after beating Albion College 7-2 and clinching a share of the MIAA conference championship on Saturday.
The Hornets bounced back after the number one-doubles team of Sarah Woods and Jenna Riehl dropped their first match 8-6, and dominated the Britons in singles on their way to the team’s first conference title since 2007. Wins by the second and third doubles teams Kelsey Moran/Olivia Bouchard and Ania Latala/Sabrina Dass led Kalamazoo into singles with a 2-1 lead. Sarah Woods continued her dominance in first singles, clinching the match with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Albion’s Katie Blumberg. Freshman standout Sabrina Dass continued her undefeated run in MIAA four singles, dispatching her opponent Heather Vogt with an emphatic 6-0, 6-1 win as Moran, Latala, and Bouchard all took home their matchups as well.
“We knew we needed this win for a share of the title, so going in we were a little nervous,” said senior captain Kelsey Moran. “They had a strong singles lineup so it was important that we got out to a lead in doubles. This title means so much to us seniors and to the rest of the team as well.”
Coach Murphy, who is in his fourth year with the program, knows the lofty expectations that surround both Men’s and Women’s Tennis at Kalamazoo College. Murphy has worked hard to create a legacy for the women’s program that is often overshadowed by the Men’s 76 year MIAA conference championship streak. After coming up just short of an MIAA championship in the past three years, he has now clinched a share of the title with the win against Albion and has the opportunity to bring Kalamazoo their first outright women’s title since 1996 with a win over St. Mary’s this Saturday.
“Winning a conference title around here is an important thing,” said Coach Murphy. “It’s what we strive to do and those are the expectations. We’re looking forward to this Saturday and competing for a chance to go to the NCAA tournament.”
Murphy believes the young Hornets team, currently ranked 9th in the region, has what it takes to reach the next level. With sophomore Sarah Woods coming off her elite eight appearance in the NCAA tournament last year, and the senior leadership of players such as Jenna Riehl and Kelsey Moran, the team has the talent and the mindset to capture the MIAA tournament title and continue on to the national tournament.
“This is one of the most competitive teams that I have ever coached,” said Murphy. “They are quite skilled but the thing that really separates them from the other teams in the conference is their passion for each other and their passion for winning and competing. This is a special year because every single person on the roster has made significant contributions to the team’s success.”
The Hornets have found success through their talent and drive but also through their cohesiveness and chemistry as well. The tight-knit team shares their individual success with each other and was rewarded with a conference championship that was a first for all members of the squad.
“This is the best team that we’ve had in a long time,” said Moran. “We work really well together and know each other really well. I’ve never been on a stronger team.”
Moving into the future, Coach Murphy and the team are determined to build up a championship culture for Kalamazoo College Women’s Tennis. The Hornets return four out of six starters next year as well as a couple of top tier recruits that are coming in. The future is bright for the current team in the 2014 season as well as seasons to come.
“There’s a certain trend that tennis has here at Kalamazoo,” said Coach Murphy. “We’d like to think that this MIAA title is the first of 76 straight for us. We just have to take it one year at a time.”
The Hornets return to action this Saturday at St. Mary’s for a shot at the outright MIAA conference championship.