The PPWT Team at the 2022 NCAA DIII Championships in Orlando

By Coach Mike Morgan

As the Sagehens were wrapping up final exams, we entered the 2022 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division III Tournament as a top 4 team in the country. For the first time, the NCAA had honored the rankings of Pomona Pitzer and CMS (Claremont-Mudd-Scripps) both being in the top 4 in the country, and sent us to different NCAA Regionals’ sites, rather than playing each other in the Round of 16, as has been the case throughout the history of the Athenas and Sagehens’ tennis history.

Once the NCAA draw came out, we were all excited and anxious to see where we would be headed. We found out that we would be headed to Dallas, Texas, as the highest seed, where we would face the winner of UT Dallas (University of Texas at Dallas) and Linfield University. Conditions were challenging, as both days of play in Dallas were close to 100°F.

Pomona-Pitzer vs. UT Dallas (5-0)

We played a tough fighting UT Dallas team in the First Round. The PPWT (Pomona-Pitzer Women’s Tennis) Team finished with a convincing 5-0 win, after Angie Zhou ‘25 and Janie Marcus ‘23 defeated their opponents. It was awesome to see Georgia Ryan ‘23 back in the lineup after a wrist injury; she and Janie picked up a victory at No. 3 doubles. One of the highlights of the weekend came when Melisha Dogra ‘22 led the pre-match team cheer virtually from her graduation at Pitzer. 

Pomona-Pitzer vs. Redlands (5-1)

On the second day, we played a very spirited Redlands team that had overcome a 1-4 deficit against the Trinity Tigers, who are now coached by former Sagehen great, Drew Cohn ‘21. The Hens came out of the doubles with a 2-1 lead, with a No. 3 doubles match that lasted over an hour. Once we headed into singles, the Hens took control and Marissa Markey ‘25 clinched the 5-1 win to send the Hens to the Final 8 for the first time since 2010. After some well-earned ice baths, some Smash Burger, and a flight back to Claremont, California, we were back into final exams and preparations for a run at the 2022 NCAA National Championship at the USTA (United States Tennis Association) National Campus in Orlando, Florida.

The whole team did an incredible job in finishing their final exams, packing their rooms, and putting in great practices in Claremont. The morning we left for Orlando, we got the unfortunate news that Maria Lyven ‘22, our No. 1 singles and doubles player had tested positive for Covid-19. From a coach’s perspective, I have to say that how I saw the team respond immediately was one of the prouder moments of my year. There was no hesitation from anyone; we knew we would have an incredible challenge ahead, playing Middlebury College which has one of the most talented lineups in the country—all without our No. 1 player. We had some great preparation for the match, and were greeted with very similar weather to what we had experienced in Dallas.

Pomona-Pitzer vs. Middlebury (4-5)

Our match started around 7:30pm ET, so it was awfully fun to be a part of a night session. The Sagehens’ first-year duo of Marissa and Angie came out with a quick 8-3 win at No. 1 doubles. Sammy Moore-Thomson ‘25 stepped into the lineup as a major MVP, partnering with Nina Ye ‘24 and winning 8-4 convincingly against a very tough Middlebury team at No. 2 doubles. 

After being up 2-1 after doubles, we headed into what we knew would be a physical and mental battle for six singles matches. In about the time it took for everyone else to finish their first set (I’m not kidding), Angie led the team at the No. 1 singles position and won 6-0, 6-0. Once again, Sammy stepped up in a huge way. After going down 0-3, Sammy didn’t look back and fought her way to a commanding 6-4, 6-3 victory at No. 5 singles. 

At this point, the Sagehens needed only one more win and continued to fight on every single court. Janie battled back from being a set and 1-5 down in the second. She got back to 5-5, but couldn’t quite hold on. A truly incredible effort. Nina played against an opponent who I would say has the best kick serve in Division III tennis. With every member of the two teams and a rowdy crowd cheering both players on, Nina earned eight team match points. She battled through full-body cramps past midnight and played some truly outstanding tennis, but couldn’t quite close out the match, losing 6-4, 6-7(7), 4-6.  

Within five minutes of the Hens losing to the Panthers, Maria had been cleared of Covid-19 and landed at the Orlando International Airport. To say it was heartbreaking is an understatement. But I would also say it was one of our best matches of the year, with the team stepping up in every direction. We reached our hotel around 2am and got Nina some pretty serious care with our trainer Matt Wilson, along with ice baths for the full team. A very tough night for all of the Hens.

Individual Championships

A few days later, we started the individual tournament, with more Sagehens in the singles draw than any other school. Maria fought very hard against the defending NCAA champion, Erica Ekstrand, but her time in quarantine caught up with her and she ended up losing 6-3 in the third set. Nina handily beat Jackie Bukzin, the only previously undefeated player in Division III, 6-2, 6-0. Angie started off with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Claire Coleman in what was going to go down as one of the most historic runs in a Division III championship ever. Nina then took down Sarah Yang by the score of 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-3, while Angie earned another 6-0, 6-0 victory over Suzuka Nishino on the next court. 

The next day, Nina battled hard but fell in the Quarterfinals to Sarah Pertsemlidis. Angie captured two 6-0, 6-1 wins over Josephine Libby and Sarah Pertsemlidis before entering the Final of the NCAA Women’s Singles Championship. The first-year Sagehen was up 4-3 in the first set and 5-4 in the second set. But her opponent, Elle Christensen, played incredibly well when she was down and gave Angie no room to breathe.

I couldn’t be more proud of this team and cannot wait to get the 2022-23 campaign started. I love this crew and all that they have stood for.

(Images courtesy of Pomona-Pitzer Athletics)

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