On Oct. 23, 2016, Wellesley College’s varsity tennis team traveled to Cambridge to battle MIT for the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Championship. The Wellesley Blue ultimately fell to the top-seeded MIT Engineers in a tight 5-3 matchup. The league moved its tennis season from the fall to the spring semester starting this academic year, so the Wellesley Blue did not compete in any conference matchups in 2017.
In spite of this loss, Captain Justine Huang ’19 said that the team performed well in the NEMAC Championship and hopes to build upon its success in the 2018 season. “The match was really exciting, even though we lost. I am proud of how we did last season because we competed well and felt like a cohesive team, which is ultimately what matters most. This season, we are hoping to build off the momentum we created last year and hopefully make it back to the NEWMAC Championships,” she commented.
Wellesley Tennis currently holds a record of 3-4 and is ranked 25th nationally. The team began its 2018 campaign on Feb. 24 with a 4-1 victory over Mount Holyoke College in the annual Seven Sisters Championship tournament. The squad went on to defeat Bryn Mawr College and Smith College but fell to Vassar College in the final match, earning the Wellesley Blue second place overall.
This is Head Coach Brian Kuscher’s 10th season leading Wellesley’s tennis program. He explained that finishing second in the Seven Sisters Championship motivated his players to compete even harder the following week when they faced 20th-ranked Skidmore College in a non-conference matchup.
“Getting to the finals of Seven Sisters and losing the way we did hit the players pretty hard. To their credit, they used this to motivate themselves to be better the following week against an even better Skidmore team. We played much better and had purpose when we went on the court, much more than the first week,” he said.
In addition to leading her team to three victories at the Seven Sisters Championship, Huang enjoyed some individual success on the court. Due to her stellar performance in the tournament, she received the NEWMAC Singles Athlete of the Week for the week of Feb. 26. Individual recognition is not new to Huang. During the 2016 season, she received the NEWMAC Singles Athlete of the Week for the week of Sept. 6 and earned spots on the NEWMAC All-Conference First and Second Teams for both singles and doubles, respectively.
However, Huang revealed that the team’s overall success is far more important to her than any individual accolade. “Getting awards feels great, but team success is the most important thing for me. When the team meets its goals, that is when I feel I have achieved true success,” she stated.
Captaining the team alongside Huang are Sojin Ki ’19 and Selina Peng ’20. The three co-captains, and Korina Hernandez ’20, are the squad’s only returning players this season. Huang and Ki both studied abroad in the fall semester, so Peng and Hernandez were responsible for leading the team during the off-season. Kuscher indicated that the leadership from his returning players has been excellent thus far.
“Selina Peng was put in a tough spot where she was the only captain on campus in the fall. She stepped up and handled things beautifully. When Sojin Ki and Justine Huang came back, it was seamless. The three of them get a long incredibly well. They each have different areas that they thrive in but work well together to get the most out of the players. Their leadership, along with Korina Hernandez as the other returner, has been great for the first-years to see and witness,” he said.
Wellesley Tennis added four members from the class of 2021 to its roster, and they make up half of the team this season. Huang explained that the team’s makeup has given the first-years a unique opportunity to step up as leaders. “We don’t have any seniors on the team, and there are only four returning players. This has really given the first-years a chance to step up and make an immediate impact. This group of first-years definitely adds a lot of flare and personality to the team,” she said.
Wellesley Tennis will travel to Smith College on March 17 for their first conference matchup of the season. With the continued leadership of Huang, Ki, Peng and Hernandez, as well as the young, new talent from the class of 2021, the Wellesley Blue has the potential to make it back to the NEWMAC Championship this season. However, Kuscher wants his team to focus on the day by day as they head into conference play.
“Our goals for the season are to play better every day. Compete better every day. Make our teammates better every day. If we do that, success will come in whatever way we define it,” he said.