Women's tennis fall in SoCal Finals to Saddleback Gauchos

All great things must come to an end. Last Wednesday was no different as the Lady Corsairs' magical team season came to a close after an excruciatingly tough loss to the Saddleback College Gauchos in the Southern California Finals. SMC played well early on, but fell to the fatigue of back-to-back playoff games as the Gauchos dealt Santa Monica a 5-4 loss.

Entering the match-up with a stellar 15-1 record, the only loss of the season came against these same SC Gauchos. Saddleback hadn't lost a game all season, and head coach Richard Goldenson knew the match wouldn't be easy.

"No other opponent got four points off of Saddleback all season," said Goldenson. "They are a tough team."

With six singles matches simultaneously played on the available courts, the women's team drew inspiration from each other as they battled Saddleback College to the wire.

Sophomore superstar Anastasia Eliseeva gave the Corsairs an immediate boost, winning her match against SC's Erika Kawaga in a predictably decisive fashion. Eliseeva defeated Kagawa in three sets, riding her dominant first and third set performances to the finish line.

Not to be outdone, Eliseeva's doubles teammate, freshman Tiana Lauritzen, put on a commanding display of her own as she also finished off her Saddleback opponent in three sets. Lauritzen overwhelmed the Gauchos' Karley Pletcher with speed and power, losing only a combined three points in her victorious sets.

Sandwiched between Eliseeva and Lauritzen's two courts, freshman Jutta Collet was in the midst of her own grueling battle against SC's Clara Kearney. Facing a 4-1 deficit in the first set, Collet was undeterred as she impressively rallied all the way back to steal the set 7-5. With all the momentum in her favor, Collet continued her strong play into the second set, putting the finishing touches on Kearney 6-4.

With three out of four singles victories in hand, the Corsairs looked to be in good position, but the fatigue of playing two playoff matches on consecutive days began to rear its ugly head.

This was no more evident than in freshman Gwendolyn Kauffmann's bout with Saddleback's Michelle Neville. Kauffmann took the first set decisively against Neville, 6-2, and was leading 5-4 in the second, but an untimely calf-cramp forced the match to stop and snatched all of the momentum from her grasp. Kauffmann would return after extended treatment, but she simply couldn't regain the edge. Neville came back to win the second set 7-5 and finished the final set 6-1 as SMC's advantage dwindled.

The Corsairs' Kimberely Penez and Alix Thomas each fell in similarly tough fashion to their Gaucho opponents, and Coach Goldenson couldn't help but contemplate SMC's luck, or lack thereof.

"Mother nature had her day," he said, in reference to rain forcing the team to reschedule their semi-final match that was originally slated for a week earlier.

Despite the disadvantage, the Lady Corsairs knew they had to forge ahead and prep themselves for the doubles competition that would determine their season.

Entering doubles play with the score tied 3-3, SMC knew they needed two out of three victories to leave the courts happy.

Knowing what was at stake, the Corsairs' highly touted team of Eliseeva and Lauritzen weren't about to disappoint. The duo faced off against SC's Fletcher/Tomaiko and immediately took control with a 6-4 first set win. Eliseeva and Lauritzen continued to dominate as they finished the match with another 6-4 victory in the second set.

After a tough loss for SMC's Kauffmann/Thomas, it all came down to one doubles match, the Corsairs' Collet/Penez against Saddleback's Kagawa/Kearney. Collet and Penez battled valiantly, falling just short in the first set with 7-6 and then couldn't overcome as Saddleback took the second and deciding 6-1. With the doubles loss, Saddleback took the 5-4 overall victory and pulled the curtains on the Corsairs' playoff run.

Despite a frustrating finish, Coach Goldenson wasn't about to let one loss put a damper on the Lady Corsairs' incredible team season.

"I'm very proud of them, the way they worked so hard in both practices and matches," he said. "A coach can't ask for more."