Women’s Tennis: Commodores split pair of matches at ITA Kickoff

Vanderbilt women’s tennis won against San Diego and fell to California in last weekend’s ITA Kickoff event.

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Vanderbilt Athletics

Vanderbilt women’s tennis huddles during a match in the 2021-22 season. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Anish Mago, Staff Writer

This past weekend, Vanderbilt women’s tennis traveled to Berkeley, California, to participate in the annual ITA Kickoff event. The Commodores (3-1) won their first match on Friday against San Diego (2-1) before falling to No. 4 California (4-0) on Saturday. As it has in recent years, the ITA Kickoff served as a sign of the team’s early season progress.

“I thought overall as a group we competed very well,” head coach Aleke Tsoubanos told The Hustler. “We’re not quite there yet in terms of getting into third sets, but all in all, I’m optimistic because we fought really well and created chances for ourselves.”

The Commodores started off the weekend in strong fashion, winning 4-1 against San Diego. Vanderbilt began the match by convincingly taking two of the three doubles matches to earn the doubles point. In the first match, Anessa Lee and Dasha Kourkina took down San Diego’s Claudia de las Heras and Victoria Kalaitzis in a 6-0 shutout. Anna Ross and Holly Staff fell 6-3 on the No. 1 doubles court shortly after, but junior Marcella Cruz and graduate student Yufei Long teamed up in the final doubles match and won 6-3 to earn the point for the Commodores.

With the doubles point in hand, the attention turned to the singles courts, where the Commodores again came out strong. On the No. 1 singles court, Ross bounced back from her doubles defeat and earned the Commodores another point in a tightly contested victory. After jumping out to an early lead in the first set, San Diego’s Solymar Colling tied Ross at 5-5 and kept it close until Ross eventually ran away with the final set, 7-6(3). In the second set, Ross took the lead early and did not look back, winning 6-4.

Elsewhere in singles, Lee took care of business quickly on the No. 2 court, winning her match comfortably, 6-3, 6-2. Lee enjoyed a great performance on Friday, winning both her singles and doubles matches in dominant fashion. Staff lost 6-1, 6-2 on the No. 4 court but with three points in hand, the Commodores needed just one more singles victory to earn the overall victory, and it was Cruz who stepped up to the task.

Cruz came out in control of her match, winning the first set comfortably at 6-2. However, her opponent de las Heras stormed back in the second set, winning 6-4, and forcing a decisive third set. In the end, Cruz was able to wrestle back control of the match, winning 6-3 and giving Vanderbilt the clinching fourth point. 

“Marcella [Cruz] was actually ahead in the second set, 3-1, but took her foot off the gas a bit and found herself in a third set,” Tsoubanos said. “I’m happy she was able to hang on in the end and pull through for us. It was huge for her in a tense moment.”

Following a decisive win against San Diego, the Commodores went into Saturday facing their greatest challenge yet of the young season: a match with No. 4 California. 

On the second day of the event, the Commodores struggled to get out to a good start and were never able to gain positive momentum. The match began with Lee and Kourkina losing in a 6-1 decision on Court 3. Cruz and Long fought in a tightly contested match on the second doubles court, but ultimately fell 6-4, giving the Golden Bears the doubles point. 

Unfortunately for the Commodores, the move to the singles courts did not change their fortunes, as California won three straight matches to clinch the victory. In the first singles match to finish, Cruz was shut out 6-0 in consecutive sets. Long was unable to establish a rhythm in her match, falling 6-3, 6-2, and leaving the Golden Bears needing just a single point to clinch a victory. 

In the third and potentially decisive singles match to finish, Staff faced off against California’s Julia Rosenqvist. Staff battled to push the first set to a tiebreaker, in which she eventually lost 7-6(3). In the second set, Rosenqvist jumped out to an early lead and did not look back, winning the set 6-2 and securing the victory for California.

“All in all, I’m optimistic, because that’s a great team and I thought we fought really well and had chances,” Tsoubanos said. “They’re a well coached team and they’re really good. It was a good early season test for us; we’re not there yet, but we can get there.”

The Commodores will return home this week to face East Tennessee on Friday at 10:30 a.m. CST.