It may be heresy for a Princeton coach to say losing to Yale was a good thing, but women’s tennis coach Kathy Sell entertains the thought.
In February, her young team faced the Bulldogs in the ECAC Tournament final and fell behind 3–0 before clawing back in a five-hour epic. Sporting orange-and-black sneakers that they’d spray-painted a few days earlier, the Princeton players cheered from the sidelines and shouted encouragement from court to court between points.
Despite losing on a third-set tiebreaker in the final match, Sell saw a silver lining: “We came together as a team in a way that I hadn’t seen before at Princeton.”
Two months later, Princeton won a share of the Ivy League title for the first time since 2000. The team also earned the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championships, thanks to a 5–2 win over co-champion Harvard. The Tigers dropped their NCAA opening-round match to Florida Inter-national, 4–3, in Miami May 8.
The Princeton lineup featured a swell of young talent, with freshmen Lauren McHale (the Ivy Rookie of the Year), Hilary Bartlett, and Rachel Saiontz earning three of the top four singles spots. Sophomores Taylor Marable and Blakely Ashley also played on the singles roster.
Melissa Saiontz ’10, Rachel’s older sister, had a strong season in the No. 3 singles position. Saiontz was Sell’s first high-profile recruit and the team’s star player for two years. This season, she adjusted to playing alongside the new stars in the lineup and quietly became a team leader, according to Sell.
Princeton (18–8, 6–1 Ivy) played a brutal pre-Ivy schedule that included matches at Baylor, Duke, and Stanford — all top-15 teams at the end of the regular season — in an effort to “over-prepare” for the Ivies, Sell said. The strategy worked, with one exception: When the Tigers faced Yale again in Ivy play April 3, the Bulldogs won 4–3. The second loss was tougher to swallow.