After a long, exhausting controversy spanning a number of Anchor of Gold posts, Vanderbilt Athletics finally released the women’s tennis fall schedule just in the nick of time for the start of their season at the Debbie Southern Furman Fall Classic this past weekend. This is the first time the team has played all together since losing in the Sweet Sixteen of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Despite what you may assume, given the team’s finish, we were actually ranked 26th in the end-of-year ITA team rankings. Why? Because disrespect for Vanderbilt Athletics is universal. It spans all sports (except bowling) without exception (and maybe baseball). We’ll need to wait until January to see if we earn any of that much-deserved respect in the first team ranking of the year, but I think we will.
On a more individual level, Anna Ross, Holly Staff, and Anessa Lee, all finished last year ranked 56th, 86th, and 101st, respectively, with the former two ranking 16th in doubles following a trip to the NCAA doubles round of eight. These three start the year ranked 40th, 64th, and 76th with the former two ranking 7th in doubles. (Singles rankings out of 125 and doubles rankings out of 60) Expectations are high for the team but especially this group in particular to improve on the run they put together last year.
Seven of the ten teams at the tournament finished last year ranked near or above Vanderbilt including SEC rivals the Game Penises (28) and the Georgia Tech Buzz Butts (32). The Commodores went 3-3 in doubles and 6-1 in singles on the day, including first-ever college victories by our three newcomers. There doesn’t seem to be any big individual highlight on the day, but as a team we did win four of our singles matches in straight sets. We lost what you would expect us to lose on the doubles side, with a pair like redshirt freshman Célia-Belle Mohr and sophomore Amy Stevens losing to the nation’s 9th-ranked doubles team sophomore Kylie Bilchev and junior Ava Hrastar of Georgia Tech. But you know what? We still kept it close at 8-6. I smell the makings of a moral victory, folks. The singles side didn’t produce anything too notable, with the sole loss coming in the ranked matchup between Ross and Bilchev. Great day, all things considered.
We got a big win from Marcella Cruz and Bridget Stammel over a pair of top 100 Duke players to keep us 2-1 in doubles on the day. Stammel, a freshman, would beat 57th-ranked Brianna Shvets, a grad student, again in singles later in the day. Seems like football ain’t the only team on the recruiting warpath. We really needed that win, too, because the rest of the team kinda let us down. Vanderbilt finished the day 2-5 in singles, with first year Sonya Macavei providing the only other win. The big story of the day despite her loss, as pointed out by parlagi, is Célia-Belle Mohr taking the 2nd best player in the country Sarah Hamner down to the wire. Otherwise, it sucked to see great players like Lee and Staff drop games against opponents you’d expect them to beat, but it’s no big deal this early in the season with things still taking shape. Heck it’s barely an issue at all when first year talent is doing so well. Ross and Cruz should both have an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic, and if the new talent is as good as they are showing so far, well I know it’s early but it could be a fantastic sign that we’re about to have a great two years.
What do day three and any room where I’m by myself have in common? Singles only. Haha, get it? Because the team certainly got after it, going 5-2 on the day. The far and away biggest win of the day was Stammel over 28th-ranked Carson Tanguilig of UNC. With this win, Stammel has started her college tennis career off with a combined 6-0 record and some big-time wins to her name. Move over AJ, Bridget is the one true SEC Freshman of the Week. The rest of the team did rather well, too, not conceding any other massive losses en route to a 13-8 singles record for the tournament. All-in-all a fine start to the season.
I don’t know too much about the landscape of college tennis, but it would seem that this team is ready to push past where they finished last year when they next play the first week of October with both the ITA All-American Championships in Cary, NC and the June Stewart Invitational at home in Nashville. I expect big things, namely rebounds from our veteran players who struggled and continued dominance from Bridget “Undefeated Through 6 Matches” Stammel. Considering we made the round of sixteen last year, kept most of our talent, and added some high-level talent, I am going to go on and jump to the conclusion that we’re winning it all this year. There’s plenty of tennis left to play this fall, and I assume the yet-to-be scheduled winter and spring, too, but I really do think we could be in for a great run.
Oh and if you’re wondering about men’s tennis, they host the Commodore Invitational at home this weekend. Go watch a match! Who knows, maybe Pinman will be there. Or even better, his Mega Man-style brother Racket Man! Or maybe they’ll have a stream. I’ll have to look into it.