A season that saw fists pumped, rackets tossed and records smashed ended in heartbreak Sunday as No. 2 William and Mary (15-11, 5-2 CAA) was edged 4-3 by top-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in the CAA Championship in Norfolk, Va.
“We competed so well; it was a hard fought match,” Head Coach Meredith Geiger-Walton said, “We put everything into it.”
The Tribe led the Rams early, as junior Lauren Sabacinski and freshman Marlen Mesgarzadeh notched their seventh-straight win together. The pair took the first doubles match in the three spot 8-3.
But the lead would not last. The No. 2 pair of senior Carmen Pop and freshman Anik Cepeda was ousted 8-5 by the Rams’ Kateryna Yergina and Laura Burns, whom the Tribe duo beat by the same score only two weeks earlier in an April 9 match in Williamsburg.
The doubles point then came down to the top pairs, senior Ragini Acharya and sophomore Katie Kargl for the College, and Ana Bara and Josefin Hjertquist for Virginia Commonwealth. Bara and Hjertquist took a 7-4 lead, almost securing the doubles point for the Rams. But the College stormed back, taking the next four sets to gain an 8-7 lead before giving up the next set. After the teams split the first six points of the tie-breaking set, the College’s rackets went cold, and Kargl and Bara gave up the next four points to lose 9-8 (3).
The singles portion of the matched started just as poorly for the College. Freshman Nina Vulovich fell 6-0, 6-3 to put the Tribe in a 2-0 hole. But the College found hope in Mesgarzadeh, who downed CAA Rookie of the Year Hjertquist in straight sets 6-2, 6-4.
Cepeda continued the trend by taking out her opponent in straight sets 6-4, 6-4 to tie the match at two points apiece.
“I was really impressed how our freshmen, Anik [Cepeda] and Marlen [Mesgarzadeh], turned it around,” Geiger-Walton said.
The College’s streak continued when Acharya avenged her previous loss in an exciting straight set win, 6-4, 7-5, to push the Tribe within one point of the CAA title, 3-2.
“Ragini [Acharya] showed vengeance against her same opponent. She really turned it on, released her nerves, and played authoritatively,” Geiger-Walton said. “She’s had an incredible and stellar career, and it’s nice to see her go out with a win.”
The Tribe only needed to take one of the next two matchups, but Sabacinski was unable to gain any momentum in her match, losing 6-2, 7-6 (1) and plunging the championship match into a 3-3 tie.
The title then came down to Pop, who found herself in a 1-0 hole after coming up short in the first set tiebreaker, 7-6 (4). The energetic second team all-CAA performer was unable to muster a comeback, dropping the second set 6-2 with the match and the championship following.
“It’s disappointing for Carmen [Pop],” Geiger-Walton said. “She’s had a great career, especially over the past two years for us, where she’s thrived and been so dependable.”
The three-time first-team all-CAA Acharya finished her career with 102 singles wins, which placed her among the top-10 in school history in both singles wins and singles winning-percentage. Pop, a two-time all-CAA selection for singles play, teamed up with Cepeda to lead the team in doubles victories this year.
Despite the two significant losses to the Tribe’s lineup, Geiger-Walton remains optimistic about the future.
“It’s a disappointing loss, but there’s a lesson to be learned,” Geiger-Walton said. “All of the returners will have experienced that hurt and pain, but with the addition of our new players we’ll have a whole new team and we’ll be ready to win the CAA championship next year.”