Adrian Boteanu | Sun Staff Photographer

After struggling early on in the season, the Red closed the season strong to clinch its first ever title.

May 1, 2017

First in 43: A Season-Long Journey to a Historic Title for Women’s Tennis

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This story is part of The Sun’s 2017 spring supplement. To view the rest of the supplement, click here.

The Cornell women’s tennis team entered this season with a clear chip on its shoulder. Last year, the team suffered a devastating loss to Princeton during the final match of the season — a game which clinched the Tigers’ Ivy League title over the Red.

But this year, Cornell would not be denied.

“It was frustrating because we came so close last season, but I think that we were able to learn what it took to become Ivy League champions,” said senior Marika Cusick. “From last year’s loss, I think that we became a better team, and we knew that we had to put it all together for this season.”

Entering this season, Cusick and senior Alexandra D’Ascenzo started at the top of a lineup that featured no freshmen. The Red knew that their window to win that coveted Ivy League title was closing.

While the team continued to live by the motto of “take one match at a time,” Cornell struggled early on in the season, dropping two of its first three matches against Oklahoma and Wichita State.

The Red continued its inconsistent play in its first Ivy League challenge of the season. During the ECAC indoor tournament, Cornell lost to Harvard before bouncing back with a win over Princeton.

It was only after the ECAC tournament when the Red finally rounded into season form. Cornell won its next seven of eight non-conference matches as the team headed into Ivy League play.

And the Red would continue to carry its momentum into the beginning of league play, as the women rattled off two victories in a row, including a second consecutive win over Princeton.

But as Ivy League play wore on, Cornell was prevented from cruising to a championship. Two losses to Penn and Dartmouth left the Red with a 2-2 league record, and a realization that the only path to a title would be through winning its final three matches along with some off-days from Ivy League teams.

And that is exactly what happened.

The Red rallied to knock off undefeated Harvard, Yale and Brown to close the season to finish with a 5-2 record. However, Cornell still needed Penn to defeat Harvard during the final day of the season for the Red to finish atop the standings — a feat which the Quakers were able to accomplish an hour and a half after the Red closed out its own year.

“I’m very proud of our team because they learned from last year’s experience, and they were able to use that to their advantage this season,” said head coach Mike Stevens. “It was very rewarding to see them take it one step further this year to win the league.”

And now, for the first time in the program’s 43 years, the Red has finally won an Ivy League title.

“This team is my closest group of friends, and just being able to share this experience with them, and to end my tennis career on this note is the most amazing feeling,” D’Ascenzo said. “It is all you hope for after working so hard over the past four years.”