Women’s tennis opens season with a win

| Contributing Writer

The Washington University women’s tennis team started its spring campaign Saturday by beating the Lindenwood Lions 5-4 at the Forest Lake Tennis Club. The win brought the Bears to a perfect 1-0 start under second-year coach Paige Madara

The evening highlighted WashU’s strength in doubles; the first and third pairs won their matches of the evening. In doubles play, the first team of sophomore Karen Gao and freshman Ainsley Heidbreder defeated Lindenwood’s top doubles pair. While the second team sister duo of Katherine and Hannah Johnston fell 8-4, the Bears rebounded with a win at the third line to go into singles play with the lead. 

After an early singles lead from Gao, who dominated her sets 7-5 and 6-2, Lindenwood surged to pull ahead 4-3 after three singles losses from the Bears. Ultimately, it took Hannah Johnston to clinch the win for the Bears. Despite falling in the first set 6-2, Johnston stormed back to take an impressive second and third set win by a score of 6-4 and 6-1. Her efforts pushed the Bears across the finish line first, handing Division II Lindenwood an early season loss. 

Of the team’s 13-player roster, Gao, who was named the ITA Central Region Rookie of the Year last year, is the only returner who competed in the Division III National Championship, where she competed with graduate Ally Persky in doubles. The team now has two freshmen playing in their top six and will hope that they can contribute with big matchups on the horizon. 

The team’s biggest tests will occur later in the season, giving Madara time to get to know the new underclassmen contributors. “I think there is certainly a three-week period where we have a lot of longer trips, and we are playing a lot of very good teams on those trips,” Hannah Johnston said about the season’s key matches. “I think those couple of weekends will be something that we can really look at and focus in on.” During the three-week stint, the team will travel to Texas, Florida and Wisconsin to compete against competitors such as Caltech, Bowdoin and Tufts.

The squad looks to improve upon last year’s successes with the right kind of leadership and energy. “Going in with the mindset that you can beat anyone is the kind of mindset that I want to have,” Johnston said. The Bears found achievements in singles a season ago, and they hope to build from their doubles game. “I think we have the opportunity to be really good at doubles this year.” The senior captain was quick to praise her team after two successful doubles matches in the opening win.  

As the singles and doubles games come together, the Bears should be in a good position to make a run into the postseason after a Sweet 16 elimination in 2021. With strong upperclassman leadership and many contributing newcomers, the team will continue their season with another home match against Southwest Baptist on Saturday. 

More stories about tennis at Washington University:

Once a bear, always a bear: Madara returns

No school, more tennis: What life has been like for one student-athlete who took the year off

After Stahlhuth resigns, women’s tennis looks for someone to continue her legacy

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