Lady Bears post three semifinalists at ITA Central Regional

| Sports Reporter

The women’s tennis team finished up the fall season with a bang last weekend at the Wilson/ITA Regional Championships, boasting a representative in at least the semifinals for the singles, doubles and singles-consolation tournaments.

“They exceeded my expectations this season,” head coach Kelly Stahlhuth said. “Not that I didn’t have big expectations, but they went way beyond what I thought they would do.”

Freshman Kate Klein, seeded 12th overall in the tournament, led the way in the singles bracket, winning three matches en route to the semifinals. In her quarterfinal match, she defeated Lindon Li (one of eight 17th seeds) of the University of Chicago in a tight two-set match, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6).

“It was mostly mental for me,” Klein said. “I didn’t know how to beat her physically, and she really knew how to play the points when she was behind, so I had to keep a head about me and not get frustrated.”

The team was consistently solid, as sophomore Natalie Tingir (one of eight 17th seeds) and freshman Paige Madara reached the third round, while juniors Elise Sambol and Alex Cassady and sophomore Luisa Errichetti each advanced to the second round.

Despite falling 6-3, 6-0 to Shanelle Trail of the University of Chicago in her first match of the tournament, senior captain Allison Dender fought back to defeat her next four opponents without dropping a set on her way to winning the consolation bracket.

“They were all difficult matches for different reasons,” Dender said. “I played a lefty, and I played some players with some odd strokes, so it was just kind of figuring out each player in the game and figuring out the best strategy to play her with.”

“That’s who Allison is,” Stahlhuth said. “She is a fighter. She never quits. She wants to win. You can count on her.”

Dender and Tingir also made a splash in the doubles bracket, advancing all the way to the semifinals despite the fact that they had only played doubles together once before.

“We weren’t expecting anything like that at all,” Dender said. “We played really smart, and it was great.”

Stahlhuth said she believes the two  are a great pair.

“Personality-wise they are a good complement, good fit, and game-wise they were a good fit,” she said.

The Bears’ season is finished until the spring, but Stahlhuth is still prompting the team to prepare individual plans for the offseason.

“We are having a meeting in a few weeks, and they are going to let me know what they want their goals to be, and then we’ll plot out exactly how we are going to get there,” Stahlhuth said.

Dender, who played 11 matches over the weekend, drew from her recent experiences of intense match play to set her offseason objectives.

“The ability to be in the best of shape is going to be what differentiates us from our competitors,” Dender said.

Even with her considerable success in her first year of Division III competition, Klein is also thinking about how to improve her game.

“I might work more on being more aggressive,” Klein said. “I have more of a defensive counter-punching game, and I think that more offense could really help me against some of the big hitters.”

The women’s tennis team resumes play in early 2010 for the start of the spring season.