National Power Amherst Looks to Advance to NCAA Quarterfinals for the Sixth Straight Season
August 12, 2002
The 2001-02 Amherst women's tennis team, despite the loss of All-America standout Jamie Cohen '01 to graduation, proved itself on the national scene, finishing seventh nationally and second in the Northeast in the final Omni Hotels Collegiate Tennis Rankings, administered by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. In what has become a yearly ritual, the Jeffs stormed through conference and regional play into the final rounds of the NCAA Championship Tournament. The 2001-02 squad, following on the heels of a season that left them in the Final Four, played their way into the Elite Eight before falling to Emory University, marking their fifth straight advance into the quarterfinal round of the national championship fight. Along the way, the squad hosted and won the NCAA Northeast Regional for the second consecutive year and took the first-place title at the New England Women's Intercollegiate Tennis Tournament during the fall campaign.
The team came out swinging in the fall portion of the 2001-02 run. After posting a season-opening win at Trinity College and a 9-0 domination at Skidmore College, the Jeffs took time out to make a pass through the Rolex Invitational Tournament at Williams College. Senior tri-captain Stephanie Fong (Los Altos, CA) posted impressive results at the tournament and advanced to the championship match, where she finally fell to Williams standout Selma Kikic. Meanwhile, doubles action saw junior Susanna Burke (St. Louis, MO) and first-year juggernaut Rachel Holt (New York, NY) advance to the semifinals, where they lost to Fong and senior tri-captain Heather Cole (Pikesville, MD).
The squad came back together, running through Bates and Bowdoin Colleges 9-0 without dropping a set, before posting their only loss of the fall campaign, a 5-4 setback to defending national champion Williams on Oct. 13, despite singles and doubles wins from senior tri-captain Vass Kozoulina (New York, NY). The Jeffs rebounded to host and claim the New England Championship the next weekend in a close two-point win over Williams, 43-41. The weekend was a dramatic one: Fong injured her ankle in her singles semifinal match against Kikic, who went on to eliminate Fong. Meanwhile, Fong's teammates piled up points for Amherst. Holt dominated her bracket, and sophomore Wallis Molchen (Wilmington, DE) hung on doggedly to win what would become a marathon 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6) championship match. Cole also took home the title in her bracket via a two-set showing against Williams' Brittany Binet. In doubles action, the injured Fong and Cole teamed up and advanced to the final round in their bracket, taking down Kikic and Stephanie Hall along the way. Kozoulina and junior Paige Lawrence (Katy, TX) won their doubles bracket, and Burke and Holt climbed through their bracket for a championship.
The spring campaign started off on a relatively rocky note for Amherst. After dropping its first two matches to national power Pomona-Pitzer and Division I Cal State-Fullerton over spring break, the squad fought back to end its California swing on a high note, with wins at Chapman University and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. The Jeffs returned home to face Division I and local rival UMass-Amherst for a 5-4 loss. Against the Minutemen, junior Roopali Agarwal (Boxford, MA) posted one of three singles wins, along with Fong and first-year Tristan Hedrick (Walnut Creek, CA). Three days later, the squad fell to visiting second-ranked Emory University, but rebounded the next day with a shutout win over conference rival Colby College. The Jeffs settled in for a victory over NESCAC contender Tufts University on Apr. 17, before a string of strong matches gave the squad a win at Wellesley College and sixth-place in the NESCAC Tournament.
The Jeffs ended the regular season with a 9-6 record, earning hosting rights for the first round of the NCAA Championship Tournament. In first-round action, Amherst pounded Wellesley for a 9-0 win and went on to end Tufts' season via a 6-3 win the next day in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Their entrance into the Elite Eight sent the Jeffs to Virginia's Sweet Briar College, where they faced Emory University in quarterfinal action. Although Agarwal, Fong and Holt all posted singles wins for Amherst, the squad fell 6-3, ending the team's season. Fong and Holt qualified for the Division III Women's Tennis Singles Championships, and Fong and Cole qualified at doubles. Holt went on to sweep through the first round before being eliminated in the second, and Fong left the tournament early, dropping a grueling 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 6-4 first-round match. Cole and Fong teamed up in doubles action later in the day, but lost their first match, ending their collegiate careers.
The Class of 2002 graduated senior tri-captains Heather Cole (Pikesville, MD), Stephanie Fong (Los Altos, CA) and Vass Kozoulina (New York, NY). Together, the trio helped lead the team to one of the most dominant four-year runs in school history. They helped the Jeffs win Amherst's first and only NCAA Championship title in any sport in 1999, before pacing them to a pair of Final Four appearances their sophomore and junior years and a stake in the Elite Eight in 2001-02. Cole, who finished her Amherst career ranked 13th nationally and second in the northeast in doubles along with Fong in the ITA rankings, earned a spot on the All-NESCAC team and on the NESCAC All-Academic team over the course of her stay. Kozoulina contributed a consistent depth and power to the potent Jeff lineup, making her mark with quiet force in the Amherst battering. Fong, who left her collegiate career ranked ninth nationally and fourth in the northeast in singles along with her shared doubles ranking with Cole, also racked up a series of postseason honors to make her one of the most decorated women's tennis players in school history. Fong was given a spot on the coveted Division III ITA All-America team and was a two-time All-NESCAC selection and a designate to the NESCAC All-Academic squad. The three members of the Class of 2002 graduated Amherst with a career team record of 58-14.
Head Coach Jackie Bagwell has plenty of ammunition left in her arsenal for the 2002-03 campaign. Senior co-captains Roopali Agarwal (Boxford, MA) and Paige Lawrence (Katy, TX) will headline the Jeff marquee, and senior Susanna Burke (St. Louis, MO) will also look to wrap up her career with a strong showing. Agarwal and Burke earned All-NESCAC honors as sophomores at the conference tournament. Lawrence will also look to lead the team by example, and should be a veteran asset to an Amherst lineup that is bursting with young talent. Junior Wallis Molchen (Wilmington, DE) will bring two years of collegiate experience to the court, including a rookie season that landed her on the All-NESCAC squad. Sophomore Rachel Holt (New York, NY) will vie to pace the Amherst lineup in 2002-03, thanks to a phenomenal rookie season that landed her Division III ITA All-America honors, ITA National Co-Rookie of the Year and ITA Northeast Region Rookie of the Year designations, as well as NESCAC Rookie of the Year accolades. Holt earned All-NESCAC honors and finished her inaugural season ranked 10th nationally and fifth in the northeast in singles according to the final ITA rankings. Sophomore Tristan Hedrick (Walnut Creek, CA) made noise as a first-year, grabbing a spot on the All-NESCAC squad. Promising sophomores Elizabeth Libert (Newton, MA) and Erin Murphy (Yonkers, NY) will round out the returning Amherst letterwinners.
The Jeffs will welcome two first-year students into the 2002-03 fold. First-year Kristin Raverta (W. Springfield, MA) will come into her collegiate career with plenty of experience and competition behind her. Raverta placed second in the Massachusetts high school state championships as a prep senior, after winning the championship as a junior. Fellow first-year Hadley Miller (Lancaster, PA) has been nationally ranked since she was 13 and won the Pennsylvania state high school doubles title as a senior. Together, the two will look to maintain Amherst's standing as one of the top-ranked intercollegiate tennis programs in the nation.