No. 7 women’s tennis ends “special season” with highest ranking in program history

| Managing Sports Editor

First year Eleanor Archer was named the UAA Rookie of the Year after a strong first collegiate season. (Isabella Diaz-Mira | Student Life)

For the Washington University women’s tennis team, the 2024 season was one to remember. The team finished with a 19-5 record, logging their highest win total in the last decade. After missing out on the NCAA tournament as a team the last two seasons, they not only punched their ticket, but hosted and won a regional to earn a berth in the Elite Eight for just the sixth time in program history. 

Though their deep tournament run ended in a 5-0 loss to No. 2 Pomona-Pitzer Colleges, the Bears finished the season on a streak to be proud of. WashU ended the season ranked seventh by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, their highest mark in program history. The ITA also named Paige Madara, the Bears’ head coach, the National Coach of the Year.

“It was truly a special season as we enjoyed so many amazing accomplishments together as a team, setting new program records, and appreciating the opportunity to be together as a team,” Madara wrote to Student Life.

Success started early for the Bears. Despite a loss to Division I Illinois State University, the Bears dominated Division III competition from the get-go, winning 42/45 matches against their first five Division III opponents. WashU hit a roadbump with a tough 6-3 loss to No. 1 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges, the defending national champions, but the team bounced back to win eight straight matches, five of which came against teams ranked in the Top 32 in Division III.

Though the team lost to the University of Chicago, the eventual national champions, on their Senior Day, the Bears won their last two matches of the regular season, including a 9-0 sweep of No. 23 Grinnell College, giving them momentum going into the University Athletic Association (UAA) championships.

After taking care of Brandeis University in the first round, the Bears fell to No. 5 Emory University 5-3 in the semifinals. After a 5-2 win over No. 13 Case Western Reserve University, the Bears emerged from the tournament with a third-place finish in the highly competitive conference. In addition, four WashU athletes — senior Karen Gao, first-year Eleanor Archer, and the team’s top doubles pairing of sophomores Eliana Hanna and Amber Edmonds — received all-conference honors, with Archer being named the UAA’s rookie of the year.

Karen Gao and Eleanor Archer both earned all-conference honors this spring. (Bri Nitsberg | Student Life)

After the strong conference performance, the Bears were given a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament and the top seed in their regional. In the second round, they faced Grinnell again, beating them 5-1 before defeating No. 21 Sewanee: The University Of The South 5-0 to punch their ticket in the national quarterfinal.According to Madara, making a deep tournament run like this one had been a “major goal” for the team.

“Our seniors had a tough Sweet 16 loss in their first year, so for us to flip that result in their senior year was extremely rewarding to see how hard this team has worked over the last few years,” she wrote. “We have known for a few years that we would be hosting the Elite 8 at St. Louis this year, and it has been a major goal of our team to make the Elite 8 and compete for a championship at home.”

Despite the advantage of getting to play just minutes away from WashU’s Campus at the Dwight Davis Tennis Center in Forest Park, the Bears were unable to topple No. 2 Pomona-Pitzer, The Sagehens overwhelmed the Bears in the Elite Eight matchup, ending WashU’s tournament run with a 5-0 defeat.

“We knew going in that Pomona-Pitzer was a strong team and we had nothing to lose, so [we] could play our game,” Madara wrote. “We had a great week of practice and were feeling confident, but ultimately were out-played by a team that played outstanding tennis that afternoon”

Though the season ended with a loss, the Bears’ dominant regular season and tournament run made 2024 one of their most impressive years in recent history, and the team shows little signs of regression. The team has four graduating seniors — Gao, Katherine Johnston, Natalie Muldowney, and Maggie Yang — but will return six out of the seven athletes who took the court in the national tournament. The Bears hope that this strong group of returning student-athletes, none of whom had played in the NCAA tournament before this year, will be able to build off of this year’s success and keep pushing the program forward as they compete on a national stage.

This article was originally posted on May 27, 2024, and was updated on June 5, 2024.

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