William and Mary (20-10) entered the CAA Championship as the tournament’s top seed, with aspirations of a conference title and an automatic bid to next month’s NCAA Championship squarely in its sights. The College fell to rival Virginia Commonwealth 4-1 in Sunday’s final in Norfolk, Va. But after cruising past Drexel 4-0 Friday and Georgia State 4-3 Saturday, the Tribe won the opening doubles point, but could not hold on down the stretch.
“VCU is extremely talented outside,” tennis Head Coach Peter Daub said. “Their players are mostly clay court players and have tremendous ground strokes, so when they are outside, they put a lot of balls in play. At the same time, we were trying to adapt, and that’s not always the easiest thing to do. Unfortunately, we were not able to do that. They were just the better team in singles play that day.”
With the loss, the College’s final regular season record stands at 20-10, tying the best mark in school history.
The Tribe entered Sunday’s championship match against VCU fully aware that the Rams, who have won 11 of the past 14 CAA Championships, specialize in playing outdoors. Although junior Sebastien Vidal and freshman Jamie Whiteford started off hot with an 8-5 doubles victory, the College failed to win any singles matches, allowing the Rams to claim a 12th conference title.
While the VCU loss does not dampen one of the most successful seasons in College history, Daub said the pain of losing in the conference finals remains fresh for him and his players.
“We had set our sights on winning the CAAs; we wanted it for our seniors, and it was really tough emotionally on all the players and coaches,” Daub said. “When you work hard and you lose, it takes a lot out of you. We did work hard, and unfortunately, we lost, and it’s not a good feeling. It’s a learning experience for a young team, but at the same time, we need to learn to capitalize on this experience for next year.”
The Tribe reeled off eight straight victories prior to its VCU loss, including an easy win over eighth-seeded Drexel to start the tournament.
“When we were going into the Drexel match, we were just trying to keep our focus and put ourselves in a position mentally to go and work hard on every point,” Daub said. “We knew that we were the better team, but you have to go out and prove that, and we were trying to make sure that we weren’t going to get caught looking forward.”
Senior Richard Wardell and sophomore Ilja Orre clinched the doubles point for the College by defeating their Drexel counterparts 8-4. Wardell and freshmen Anton Andersson and Daniel Mihalov all won their singles matches, claiming singles points for the College as well.
The win brought up fifth-seeded Georgia State Saturday. The Panther’s Jackson Moore defeated senior Keziel Juneau 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4) in the one-spot, and Andersson lost to GSU’s Henri Mangin 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the five-spot to tie the match at 3-3. The College’s chances at a conference title suddenly rested on Vidal’s shoulders.
Vidal split the first two sets with GSU’s Victor Valente before outlasting him in the final set to gain a grueling 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 victory and send the College to Sunday’s CAA Championship final.
“Georgia State was a very, very hard team to beat, and I knew going in that we were going to be tested,” Daub said. “I think Sebastien beat a player that had maybe two or three losses all season. I’ll bet he was one of the best players in the tournament and Sebastien was fortunate to stay with him as well as he did. Once he was able to break him down in the third set, he was able to capitalize on that and win the match.”