William and Mary swept through the conference tournament this weekend, ultimately capturing the CAA Championsip with a 4-2 victory over Georgia State in the tournament final.
The title is the Tribe’s 21st in 26 years, and gives the team an automatic berth to its 18th NCAA Tournament, which begins May 19 in Stanford, Calif.
“We feel totally excited, totally pumped,” head coach Meredith Geiger-Walton said. “This team deserves it. I don’t think [we’re] surprised, but this team came into the tournament with a lot of confidence, a lot of energy, and a lot of motivation.”
After entering the tournament as the No. 1 seed — which gave the team a first-round bye — the College cruised through the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, shutting out Drexel and UNC-Wilmington, respectively, en route to the final-round matchup with Georgia State.
It would be the Tribe’s second consecutive trip to the final round. In 2010, the College lost in a 4-3 heartbreaker to VCU.
But Georgia State was no stranger to the title match either, having lost in the 2009 final.
It looked as though the Tribe might be headed for a similar fate this year as the team lost the first point of the match in the doubles portion.
Georgia State’s duo of Abigail Tere-Apisah and Maryna Kozachenko downed the Tribe’s pairing of sophomore Anik Cepeda and freshman Hope Johnson — the No. 30 doubles team in the nation — in the No. 1 slot, 8-5.
Junior Katie Kargl and sophomore Marlen Mesgarzadeh also dropped their No. 2 matchup, 8-4. The doubles portion wasn’t a total wash for the College, as senior Lauren Sabacinski and freshman Jeltje Loomans defeated their Panther counterparts, 8-6, but it wasn’t enough, and Georgia State took the early 1-0 lead.
Things turned around quickly, however. Loomans continued her top-notch play, dominating Kozachenko in the No. 3 slot, 6-1, 6-1 to take the first singles match of the day and even the overall score.
Mesgarzadeh then followed by closing out Georgia State’s Tereza Lerova, 6-2, 6-2 for the sophomore’s sixth consecutive win and tenth victory in her last 11 matches.
But the Tribe’s first lead of the day was short-lived, as the Panthers wrapped up a victory in the No. 1 spot soon thereafter when Tere-Apisah handily beat Johnson again, 6-2, 6-3.
Even with the match tied, though, things weren’t looking up for Georgia State.
Sabacinski — a member of the Tribe’s 2007 and 2008 CAA championship-winning teams — was already well on her way to a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Kir Kemp at No. 5, making Cepeda’s No. 4-spot match with Gresova the potential clincher.
With Kargl locked in an uncomfortably tight match against Martina Ondrackova in the No. 6 position, the pressure was on Cepeda, who had won the first set, 6-3, to lock up the title for the Tribe.
Cepeda wouldn’t disappoint, quickly extinguishing the Panthers’ hopes of a comeback by jumping out to a 4-1 second-set lead, and eventually sealing it, 6-3.
“We responded to losses really well,” coach Geiger-Walton said. “And where we stand out from the rest of the CAA is we had such a tougher schedule. We played 16 ranked teams this year and where that really shows up is in the end.”
The College will return, hardware in hand, to Williamsburg and await its draw for the NCAA Tournament before making the cross-country trip to Stanford.