The Georgetown tennis teams closed their 2015-16 campaigns in late April with strong showings at the Big East tournament in Cayce, S.C., where both sides earned four seeds. The tournament marked the conclusion of a successful year for the men’s and women’s teams, both of which saw immense growth and consistent success.
“Both teams showed such great character this year,” Head Coach Gordie Ernst said.
The women’s team (13-5, 2-3 Big East) competed with Marquette (12-9, 1-2 Big East) in the quarterfinal round, topping the Golden Eagles in a 4-1 finish. Georgetown fell to Marquette last year in the Big East tournament, which drove the Hoyas to avenge the loss.
“We lost to them last year so it was also very personal because last year we were the fifth seed and they were the fourth seed,” junior captain Victoire Saperstein said. “There was a lot of build to this match beforehand. …We made it pretty clear how much of a big deal this one was going to be and how much we felt like we needed to prove ourselves and that’s exactly what we did.”
Marquette started off strong in the 90 degree South Carolina weather, winning the doubles point with victories at the first and third doubles slots. Even though Marquette did have momentum entering singles play, Georgetown bounced back and went on to find victory in four singles matches.
“We were down, we lost the doubles point, [and] we lost three first sets,” Ernst said. “And then you could just feel the momentum shift, you know? You could just feel it. [Junior] Sophie Barnard won an unbelievable three-set match. [Sophomore] Sara [Swift] and [freshman] Sydney [Goodson] just completely crushed their opponents, and now we’re at 3-1.”
With the score at 3-1, Saperstein and freshmen Cecilia Lynham and Risa Nakagawa competed concurrently in their singles matches. Nakagawa won the first set in her match but fell quickly in the second. However, she rebounded to win the third set over Marquette senior Erin Gebes and clinch the match for Georgetown.
“It was incredible. … Risa won and everyone was just so excited,” Saperstein said. “It was [an] amazing, incredible moment — just proving to ourselves that we did deserve the four seed and that we can beat Marquette and are competitive in the Big East which is what we’ve been trying to prove all season which is really exciting.”
“It was one of the better wins I’ve been a part of as the Georgetown coach,” Ernst said of the match overall. “We’ve never beaten them. We lost to them last year, so it was jut a great way to get revenge.”
The women’s side advanced to the next round of the tournament, but fell to No. 70 DePaul (14-8, 6-0 Big East) — which earned the number one seed in the tournament — in a 4-0 finish in the semifinals. The Blue Demons won all three doubles matches to swiftly earn the first point of the match.
DePaul earned wins in the second, third and fourth singles matches to defeat Georgetown. Even though the score said otherwise, Ernst explained that the match was extremely close on all levels, which he attributed to the number of games that went to deuce.
“Sara lost six deuce games in the first set and she lost 6-0. In doubles, Sophie and [sophomore] Casey [Marx] at third doubles lost five deuce games,” Ernst said. “I think we were in good shape, it just came down to a handful of points. We could have beaten them.”
The men’s team (9-9, 2-1 Big East) faced fifth-seeded Xavier (12-9, 3-3 Big East) in the quarterfinal round. The tournament matchup was the teams’ second meeting on the season, the first of them being a 4-3 decision in favor of Georgetown on March 18. The Musketeers evened the score against the Hoyas, defeating Georgetown 4-0 in the quarterfinals.
“It was a really competitive match from the get-go in doubles. … They just got the better of us,” sophomore Peter Beatty said. “When we played them earlier in the year we won the doubles point and that set the tone for singles. … The singles lineup between Xavier and us, it’s pretty much dead even, all six matches can go either way.”
Xavier won the majority of the doubles matches to get on the scoreboard first. The Musketeers then notched victories in the first, second and sixth singles positions over senior Daniel Khanin, sophomore Marco Lam and freshman Will Sharton, respectively.
Despite the 4-0 score, Beatty said the match was deceivingly close. If all the other matches continued after Xavier clinched the victory, Beatty said it likely would have resulted in a 4-3 overall decision.
“We were close in every other match that was left on the court,” Beatty said. “I was still playing, [freshman] Mike Chen was still playing and [junior] Yannik Mahlangu was still playing, and all three of those matches we would have won.”
Georgetown went on to defeat eighth-seeded Villanova (8-14, 0-2 Big East) in the back draw in a 4-0 finish.
Overall, both Georgetown teams saw success on several fronts this year that show promise for the future of the programs. Most recently, Saperstein and Nakagawa earned All-Big East selections.
“For Risa to get it as a freshman, that just shows how much respect she’s earned from the other coaches,” Ernst said. “She had a great year, I mean a really great year. What a teammate too, she’s just the ultimate team kid. She was meant to play college tennis.”
However, Saperstein also explained that the awards are also indicative of Ernst’s effective coaching.
“It’s really exciting for Gordie, it shows that he really does great recruiting but also does great shaping because going from junior tennis to college tennis,” Saperstein said. “There’s a very big transition that needs to happen and the fact that as freshmen he’s able to have his players transition so smoothly, you know that just shows how good of a coach he is so it’s mostly about Gordie, not about us, honestly.”
On the men’s side, Beatty saw potential and the possibility of growth throughout the entire season. One encouraging match in the fall was Georgetown’s matchup against No. 3 North Carolina (25-4, 10-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), where even though Georgetown fell 6-0, it showed competitive spirit.
“We played them really close and every match was really competitive against kids who are playing in the junior U.S. Open in the summer. … They’re all on full rides, they’re playing top-level tennis,” Beatty said. “Seeing how close and competitive we were with them was a really positive thing, and I think everyone left Chapel Hill really excited for what the season had in store.”
Ernst referenced the team’s matches in California during spring break. When the Hoyas defeated UC San Diego (14-9, 1-0 California Collegiate Athletic Association), Ernst said he saw that his team had truly improved from the beginning of the season through the spring.
“I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, these guys have grown up a lot.’ They’re getting better and better and it was just great to see, and sure enough we come home and beat Xavier. So it’s like, you just have these moments where you feel like your team is coming together,” Ernst said.
Going forward into next season, Georgetown will lose three seniors in Khanin, senior Liselot Koenen and senior Mimi Lynham. Khanin has played number one singles for most of his athletic career at Georgetown.
“He’s been our number one player for four years and been a huge contribution to the team as both a player and as a person,” Beatty said. “The team is going to miss him for sure, but at the same time, we have a lot of potential going forward.”
Saperstein anticipates the chance for the women’s team to go back into the Big East tournament with the goal of winning the title. She believes that next year, they will have the team to accomplish that feat.
“Now we really believe and we’re ready, we want to win it, we want to win the Big East next year, and we’re ready to perform to that level,” Saperstein said. “Especially because it’s my last year, so it’s happening.”