In the final home match of their memorable careers, seniors Ragini Acharya and Carmen Pop led No. 51 William and Mary (12-10, 3-1 CAA) in a dominating 7-0 sweep of Richmond (5-10, 3-1 A-10) Saturday.
The win could not have come at a better time for Tribe tennis, which, after a 6-1 win over Old Dominion Wednesday, lost 6-1 to No. 24 Virginia Commonwealth Friday.
“After a disappointing loss, it hurts,” Head Coach Meredith Geiger-Walton said. “But that hurt turns into just desire, and I think this crew is strong enough and confident enough that they knew today they were going to go out there and take care of business and make it a great day for the seniors. There was extra motivation to play — not just to win for the team, but to win for the seniors.”
Pop and Cepeda never trailed during their 8-2 win at the No. 2 doubles spot, winning their eighth straight match together. Pop showed great emotion throughout the match and, after Richmond’s shot went long on match point, threw her arms into the air before running to hug her doubles partner.
With the win, Cepeda now has 27 doubles victories in her rookie season, moving her into fifth place on the Tribe’s all-time freshmen wins list.
After the Tribe’s No. 3 team of freshman Nina Vulovich and sophomore Victoria Ford fell 8-5, the doubles point rested on the No. 1 partnership of Acharya and junior Lauren Sabacinski. By the time Pop and Cepeda had won their match, Acharya and Sabacinski were down 7-2, and it looked as if Richmond would take a 1-0 lead.
Then, Sabacinski made a couple of shots to set off a spark within the twosome. Frustration mounted for Richmond’s No. 1 team of Erin Clark and Helen Cunningham — Clark actually popped a balloon with her racket after sending a backhand wide — and before most fans realized, the match was square at 7-7.
Acharya dug in and helped the College obtain an 8-7 lead. Richmond fought off one match point, before losing a long rally for the advantage and then hitting a shot wide to give the College the 9-7 victory and the overall doubles point for the ninth straight match.
The Tribe carried its momentum from the doubles matches into singles play, winning all six matches in straight sets. Freshman Nina Vulovich made quick work of her opponent, Isabel Arana, 6-1, 6-1 for her 18th victory of the season.
Next up were Acharya and Pop, who closed out their Williamsburg careers in victorious fashion. Acharya dropped the first two games of her match against Clark, but persevered and won every game — 12 in a row — en route to her 16th victory of the season and 101st of her career, 6-2, 6-0.
Pop tried to have as much fun as possible in her final match in front of the home crowd and constantly talked to her friends on the sidelines. After a particularly lucky point, Pop came over to her bench and said to people in the stands, “It ain’t pretty, but it works.”
Her light-hearted approach worked, and she defeated Kelly Tidwell on a perfectly placed drop shot for her 70th win of he illustrious career and her 22nd of the season, 6-2, 6-2.
“They played loose; they played relaxed,” Geiger-Walton said. “They just went out the way they wanted to, so [I’m] very impressed, and obviously very proud.”
Cepeda and freshman Marlen Mesgarzadeh continued their consistent singles play, each winning for the fifth time in six matches. Mesgarzadeh defeated Helen Cunningham 6-4, 6-1, for her 17th win of the year, and Cepeda beat Joanna Matuszczyk 6-1, 6-3, earning her 22nd victory of the season.
The final match was between Sabacinski and Sydney Grant. With all of her teammates cheering her on, Sabacinski held in a second-set tiebreaker to win 6-3, 7-6 (2). This gave Sabacinski her 11th win of the season, and the Tribe walked away with a 7-0 sweep.
The win completed the perfect Senior Day for Acharya and Pop.
“This team feeds off a lot of positive emotion,” Geiger-Walton said. They’ve really bonded well together, and this was just another day of an example of the camaraderie that they share.”
The College will now travel to Norfolk to compete in the CAA Championships April 15-18.
“We’ve got lots of momentum going in, and I think [the VCU] loss was in our favor, because we’ll go in as a little bit more of the underdog,” Geiger-Walton said. “I think we’ll have a good draw, and we expect to be in the finals. We expect to hit VCU again.”