The Bridgewater State University women’s tennis team can celebrate for now, but they can’t celebrate for long.
On Friday, the Lady Bears beat Salem State University, 9-0, to clinch the Little East Conference (LEC) regular season title and an undefeated regular season with a 12-0 overall record.
“To do that is a testament to the work and dedication of all the players here,” said first year head coach John Nestel. “We’ve laid out a lot of things for them to do this season. They have greeted that with open arms and really absorbed it and put it into play. Pretty simply that’s why we are where we are.”
The win gives Bridgewater State the number one seed in the upcoming LEC Tournament, as they will host fourth seeded Worcester State University at the Rosen Memorial Courts on Thursday at 2 p.m. Winning the LEC Tournament will guarantee the Lady Bears a spot in the NCAA Division III Tournament for the third time in four years.
The Lady Bears closed out the regular season strong, as they beat all three of their final opponents, 9-0. With all the success, the team was able to avoid complacency in their quest for more hardware.
“It’s something we have gone over at nauseam,” Nestel said. “That is a typical thing to happen to athletes no matter what sport you are. You’re winning a lot, and you let your guard down and before you know it you’re on the canvas.
“We are trying to give examples of that and where the shortfalls and the pitfalls of that are. And you hope that they take it to heart. The end of the day, you as the athlete are on the court, so you have to buy into that otherwise you’ll be disappointed.”
Behind the team success, senior co-captain Jenna Williamson is making her way through the Bridgewater State record books.
With her win on Friday, Williamson improved to 37-0 in her career in LEC play and has a 50-5 record in her four years as a Lady Bear.
“I think she just plays her game,” said assistant coach Ron Santacroce. “She sets the tone for each match and she steps up for each one. She never lets down. When the tough get going, she is right there in front of the pack. She’s just outstanding.”
Williamson said she relishes the pressure that goes with her undefeated record, as she will only have to win two matches in the LEC Tournament to complete her undefeated conference career.
When Williamson first came to campus as a freshman, she was not even thinking about what her tennis career might turn into it. A two-sport athlete, Williamson said she came to Bridgewater State to play basketball, and she wasn’t even sure if she wanted to play tennis.
Good thing she did, as with every win, Williamson is building her tennis legacy. On the verge of her third straight LEC Player of the Year honors, Williamson is building the case that she is the best tennis player ever to come through the program.
“I like to think about things after the season is done, after I’m done with my four years and I can go back and look at it,” Williamson said. “I feel like if I think that now and it doesn’t happen, I’ll be like ‘why would you think that.’ But it would be amazing.”
With Williamson leading by example, the rest of the Lady Bears have followed suit.
Senior co-captain, and Williamson’s doubles partner, Lauren Hopp, has shown to be one of the top players in the LEC, as she is 19-0 in her LEC career.
The Bears have also received steady play from UNC Asheville transfer Jackie McGuirk. McGuirk has stepped up in a big way at number two singles, with an 11-1 overall record and a 7-1 LEC record.
Juniors Melissa Flynn, Rachael Eramo and sophomore Alison Vautrin have also played well for the Lady Bears in the back three spots.
Bridgewater State’s depth one through six could be one of the reasons for a long postseason run.
“That’s a big key for any team really when you have girls that can come in out of nowhere and can start contributing,” Hopp said. “All of us are talented. No matter where you are one through 12, everybody has what it takes to bring in a W.”
Going into the LEC Tournament, the Lady Bears will be heavy favorites to take home the title, as they try to avenge a 5-4 loss to Salem State in last year’s LEC Tournament title match.
“I always get a little nervous going into the playoffs undefeated,” Williamson said. “But, I’m really confident in our team this year. We just have to not be overconfident that we are undefeated. We know our potential and we should go all the way.”
Greg Dudek is The Comment’s Editor-In-Chief. Follow him on Twitter at gdudek10 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.