No. 7 Commodores are Unsatisfied

By Steve Kirkland, Originally appeared in the Flagship

The Vanderbilt women's tennis team achieved many milestones during the 2001-02 season. It set a school record for wins, earned their highest ranking ever, and reached the finals of the National Indoor Championships for the first time.

Yet, when its season came to an end on a May afternoon in Northern California, there was a sense of disappointment.

After the fourth seeded Commodores fell in the round of 16 of the NCAA Championships, we must remember that upsets are part of college athletics. Last year, the Commodores pulled off two upsets in these same championships during their run to the national finals. This year they were the favorite, but came away with a result that will motivate them for next year.

"It says a lot about the state of your program when you finish No. 7 in the nation and it is a disappointment," said Vanderbilt head coach Geoff Macdonald. "It wasn't that long ago that we would have been ecstatic to be in the top ten at season's end."

Although it is easy to focus on the way a season ended, Commodore fans should focus on the highlights of one of the most successful years in the program's history.

The 'Dores posted a 27-5 record, the most dual match wins of any Vanderbilt tennis team, men's or women's. Twenty-one of those wins came against ranked opponents.

In February, the Commodores beat top 20 ranked teams on three consecutive days to reach the finals of the ITA National Indoor Championships. The following week, the team's performance at the elite tournament was rewarded with a No. 2 national ranking, their highest ever.

The Commodores would go on to post a 9-2 record in the Southeastern Conference, one of college tennis' toughest leagues. Wins over top ten foes Duke, Texas and Tennessee highlighted the regular season. The only two setbacks were 4-3 losses to No.1 Georgia and eventual SEC Champion and NCAA finalist.

Vanderbilt would reach the semifinals of the SEC Tournament for the third consecutive season, before falling to the Gators for a second time by a 4-3 score.

"I admire how hard this team fought to be ranked No.1 in the country," added Macdonald. "We had a few matches where we were a few points away from wins that would have vaulted us to that place. We were incredibly close achieving our goal of being the best team in the nation."

Leading that charge was junior Sarah Riske. The McMurray, Pa. native played at No. 1 singles and No.1 doubles for the Commodores. Her 23-9 singles record earned her a national ranking of No.14 in the final poll and All-American status for the first time in her career.

She teamed with Aleke Tsoubanos again this season in doubles and the duo continued to succeed. Now the winningest doubles team in Vanderbilt history, they won 25 doubles matches this spring and earned All-American status, after advancing to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Doubles Championships. Riske and Tsoubanos became the third and fourth Vanderbilt players to earn All-American status.

However, All-America wasn't the only honors Commodores would earn in 2002. When the All-SEC honors were handed out, Vanderbilt led the conference by placing seven players on the all-conference squad.

Tsoubanos earned first team honors for her play at No. 5 singles while freshman Audra Falk earned honors at No. 6 singles. The doubles team of senior Jenny Miller and sophomore Kelly Schmandt were named to the first team for their undefeated conference play at No. 3 doubles.

Riske and Miller were voted to the second team for their singles play as was the team of senior Kate Burson and freshman Annie Menees for their doubles play. It was the most conference accolades for a Commodore team and the most by any conference institution in six years.

"Overall I think we had a good season," stated Riske. "We beat a lot of quality opponents and suffered only a few close losses to some of the top teams in the country. We battled through some adversity, especially when we suffered some injuries at some crucial times. We rallied together and we are a close team. We will improve next year and we should be right with the top teams again."

The Commodores return six players next year and will look to take the next step in their climb to the top ranks of collegiate tennis. They will once again have the talent to be one of the nation's elite teams next year, something that has become the norm at Vanderbilt.

With this season as motivation, don't be surprised to see great things from the Commodores in 2003.



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