The third-ranked Williams Ephs claimed the 2008 NCAA Team Championship in a thrilling 5-4 decision over the defending team champion Washington and Lee Generals on Thursday afternoon on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. This is the third team title for Williams, and its first since winning back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002. Washington and Lee finished as the NCAA Runner-Up for the fifth time in program history and the fourth time in six seasons. The last NCAA women’s tennis title match to be decided 5-4 was in 2000 when Trinity (Texas) defeated UC-San Diego at Gustavus Adolphus College .
Washington and Lee tallied the first point of the match when Virginia Dickinson and Kelly Will defeated Nikki Reich and Annie Hancock 8-3 at #3 doubles. Williams rallied to tie the match at 1-1 after Grace Baljon and Allison Rottkamp won a close 8-6 match over the Generals’ Catherine Reed and Leah Weston in #2 doubles. In the rubber match at #1 doubles, Lauren Caire and Katie Tabb of Washington and Lee prevailed 8-3 over Cary Gibson and Annie Schneidman.
Williams quickly evened the match at 2-2 when Grace Baljon defeated Kelly Will 6-2, 6-0 at the #2 singles position. The Ephs took the 3-2 lead after the completion of #3 singles as Ashley Parsons edged out a tight first set against Lauren Caire 7-6, 7-2 in the tiebreaker before taking the second set 6-0. Washington and Lee came back to tie the match at 3-3 when Rebecca Timmis defeated Allison Rottkamp 6-4, 6-1 at #5 singles.
Williams’ Cary Gibson and Washington and Lee’s Katie Tabb split the first two sets of the match at #1 singles, as Tabb won the first set 6-2 and Gibson took the second set 6-4. Tabb had the early break in the third set at 3-0, but Gibson fought back to win the next six games to win the decisive third set 6-3.
“For some reason, I have lost quite a few first sets this season. It motivates me and I
have been able to respond to the challenge. Katie played a great first set and I just
told myself, she just can’t keep hitting all those winners. I told myself that the
momentum would shift I just have to keep believing and sure enough it did and my
confidence just kept getting stronger in the third set,” stated Gibson after the awards presentation.
As the Ephs held the 4-3 lead and the crowd shifted to watch the two matches being played only one court apart, Meg Spalitta kept the Generals in the contest by coming back from a set down to win the point at #6 singles 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 over Annie Hancock.
All eyes of the 250 spectators then turned to focused on the #4 singles match between Nikki Reich of Williams and Leah Weston of Washington and Lee. Reich took the first set 6-2 and served for the match at 5-4. However, Weston broke Reich to stay in the set and the match at 5-5. Weston went on to win the next two service games to win the set 7-5. In the deciding set, Reich seized back the momentum as she won six of the next seven games to clinch the victory and the point for Williams.
The previously unbeaten Generals had not lost a match since March 31, 2007 when Williams defeated Washington and Lee 5-4. “We have really developed a great rivalry with Washington and Lee lately. We beat them on spring break a year ago 5-4 and then lost to them in the national semifinals last year 5-0. This year they beat us 5-4 on spring break and now we bounce back and beat them 5-4 for the national title. We have such tremendous respect for their program,” said Williams head coach Alison Swain.
“We have rarely trailed after doubles this season, so that was a test for this group. It
was important for us to win the first sets in the #2, #3, #4 and #6 singles matches.
That settled us down and helped us re-focus.”
In her first year at the helm for Williams, Alison Swain became the second female in NCAA history, in any division, to win the national team championship as a player and a coach. Swain was also a player on Williams’ 2001 national championship team. “This is an amazing moment. I am much more emotional as a coach than I was as a player
when we won the national championship. I am so proud of this group. It took everything we had and this group stuck with it to the very end,” said Swain.