Women’s tennis pounds Principia to win second SLIAC title in three years

Webster senior Allison Tungate hits a backhand during the Gorloks’ April 21 match against Principia College at the Dwight Davis Tennis Center. Tungate won both her doubles and singles matches as Webster beat the Panthers 5-1 in the SLIAC tournament championship. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY MACKENZIE WILDER.

With a record-breaking 19th win, the Webster University women’s tennis team clinched its second St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship in three years.

The Gorloks dethroned Principia College, the defending conference champions, with a 5-1 victory in the championship match on April 21 at the Dwight Davis Tennis Center in Forest Park.

“It always feels good to beat Principia,” senior Paige Tungate said. “They’re our biggest rival.”

Webster coach Michael Siener said his team was ready to play in the title match.

“The girls were confident,” Siener said. “Maybe nervous, but that’s normal when playing in a championship match.”

Paige Tungate and senior Allison Tungate won their doubles match at No. 1, 8-5. Freshmen Marissa Lewis and Kathleen Kennedy teamed up at No. 3 to win 8-3, as Webster jumped out to a 2-1 lead after doubles action.

In singles play, Allison Tungate, Lewis and junior Lindsey Hays won their matches to seal the SLIAC championship and an NCAA Division III tournament berth.

The last women’s tennis team to reach the NCAA tournament was the 2010 squad. That team lost 5-1 in the first round to Grove City College. Siener said the differences between this year’s team and the 2010 team are clear.

“We’re a deeper team than them,” Siener said. “We’ve got more depth and more players that can play. The overall talent is better on this team.”

Paige Tungate also said the depth played a factor in what set Webster apart from the other SLIAC schools.

“Our team is deep,” Paige Tungate said. “One through six, we’re all really good. That was our biggest strength going into this.”

Siener said everyone on the roster contributed throughout the record-breaking season. The previous program record for wins in a season was 12, which was set by the 2009 Gorloks.

“Everybody we have on the roster has made an impact,” Siener said. “We’ve got some good older leaders and some good young recruits that came in. It hasn’t been one particular player that’s carried the team. It’s been all nine players all year. Everybody has played, won (and) been a part of some big wins during the year.”

With twice as many first-year recruits as upperclassmen, Paige Tungate said the season and conference championship has been a huge learning experience for the freshmen.

“When you’re playing a match and you don’t know if you’re going to be playing tomorrow, there’s going to be some nerves there,” Paige Tungate said. “It’s much more intense.”

Webster received a first-round bye in the SLIAC tournament as the event’s No. 1 seed. Webster claimed victory in the semifinals by defeating No. 4 Greenville College 7-0 on April 20 at Principia College’s indoor facility.

The Gorloks had defeated Greenville earlier this season 9-0 on April 5. With the win, Webster advanced to play No. 2 Principia, which beat Westminster College 5-1 in the other semifinal.

The first round of the D-III national tournament is set to begin May 11. Webster’s seeding and opponent has yet to be announced. In preparation for the tournament, the 19-2 team will work on doubles play and sharpening its singles skills.

“Before we play in our first match, we want to be able to win one or two in the doubles, if not all three,” Siener said. “We want to stay in a close match. We’ll probably spend most of our time working on that up until we leave.

“I’m anxious to see what seed we get. Hopefully our record will carry some weight and we get a good seed.”

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