The number three has both bad and good omens for the women’s tennis team.
The Colonials started off their spring season with three straight losses, unsure of their best doubles duos and still mixing with the singles lineup. After some regrouping, a strong turnaround now has the Colonials slotted as the No. 3 seed in this weekend’s Atlantic 10 Championships.
GW secured a first-round bye in the tournament and will begin play on Friday, facing the winner of No. 6-seeded Saint Joseph’s and No. 11-seeded George Mason.
GW (8-5, 5-2) enters the tournament on a wave of momentum after winning its final four matches of the season – including a 6-1 victory over George Mason most recently. The 8-5 record marks the fourth-straight year that the team ended the regular season with a winning record.
“I tried to push them to their limits, and they responded really well,” said head coach Greg Munoz, who also coaches the A-10 champions men’s team. “Our goal is now to make the finals.”
Munoz, in his first year at the helm of the women’s program, said he thinks the more competitive atmosphere has and will continue to push the team in the right direction. He added that the strength of their regular season schedule prepared the team with the type of tests it will need to make a deep run in the tournament.
The Colonials are led by sophomore Lana Robins, senior Leah Pascarella and freshman Taylor Nederlander – likely the one, two and three singles slots in the tournament.
Robins led the team in total wins this season, finishing with a singles record of 17-9. Pascarella and Nederlander both finished at 16-8.
“I did a really good job of not underestimating myself,” Robins said. “Last year, a lot of the time I said ‘I’m a freshman these girls are supposed to beat me.’ But this year I said ‘I belong here I deserve to win I can beat these girls.’”
For Pascarella, who earned the last A-10 Co-Performer of the Week award Tuesday, it’s her last shot at an A-10 title. During her career at GW, she’s never made it past the semifinals.
“It’s my last one and I think we have the best chance of all my four years, so I’m really excited for this one,” said Pascarella, adding that she does not want a repeat of last season’s quarterfinals exit against Massachusetts. “We just need to stay solid throughout the matches.”
Rounding out the ladder for the Colonials at the No. 4 slot will be sophomore Elge Jakuciunaite (6-6), sophomore Christina Carpenter (7-4) at No. 5 and senior Isabella Escobar (2-7) at No. 6.
The main competition for GW in this year’s tournament will be the two teams directly above them: No. 2-seeded Saint Louis (15-4) and top-seeded defending champion VCU (9-9). If the Colonials have their eyes set on raising the A-10 trophy, they’ll likely have to go through both teams.
Should both GW and Saint Louis win their opening matches, the two would face off against each other in the semifinals. The Billikens enter the tournament riding a nine-match winning streak – winning 14 of their last 15 matches – spanning all the way back to March 1. One of those wins was a 4-3 victory over the Colonials on March 10.
Despite the 9-9 record, VCU remains the top team in the conference, as all nine of its losses came in non-conference play against teams ranked in the Top 75 nationally. VCU has not lost a match to any unranked opponent this season, including the Colonials, whom they defeated 7-0 on March 22.
“VCU is two levels above everyone else,” Munoz said. “They’ve had a rough year, but only really play ranked teams.”
Both the players and Munoz are placing emphasis on staying in the moment, taking it one match at a time and withholding any added pressure from the tournament environment. Despite the steep competition, they remain confident that a win over Saint Louis and a finals appearance are within reach.
“It’s all the same,” Nederlander said, emphasizing that anything anything can happen at A-10s. “We have a match, we have an opponent, we know what we need to do so we have to go out there and do it.”
The Colonials will begin tournament play in the quarterfinals Friday at 1 p.m.