Erica Ekstrand of Williams College defeats Christina Watson of Emory
On the last day of the individual championships for NCAA DIII women’s tennis, Williams freshman Erica Ekstrand defeated Christina Watson of Emory in straight sets 6-2, 6-3 to become the first Eph women to win the NCAA DIII Singles title.
Ekstrand on her way to the title not only beat Christina Watson, the Emory number two singles player but also Emory’s number one singles player Ysabel Gonzalez-Rico in straight sets in the semifinals. Emory won the 2021 team title.
Ekstrand who was given the nickname “Rocky” for her fierce competitiveness lived up to that nickname again today as she took control of the championship match from the start and never let Watson gain any traction.
Williams head coach Anik Cepeda was with Ekstrand throughout all of her matches, and commented, “Erica’s match today was the sweet cap to an impressive freshman season. I’m proud of her focus, determination, and unwavering belief in herself. Behind every great win is an equally great team. This couldn’t have happened today without the good vibes from Eph men’s tennis, assistant coach Felix Sun, our squad of doubles qualifiers (Zoë and Jenny), alumnae energy, and the whole crew back home that supported and cheered for Erica every step of the way. What a season! I can’t wait to see what this young and hardworking squad comes up with next.”
Emory Duo Beats…Yep, Emory Duo!
Emory University women’s tennis program captured the NCAA Division III doubles national championship Sunday evening as Ysabel Gonzalez-Rico and Katie Chang defeated Christina Watson and Stephanie Taylor in the all-Emory national championship.
Gonzalez-Rico and Chang capped off a perfect 2021 doubles season as they topped their Eagle teammates in a great three set match, 6-2, 5-7, 6-3. They finish the year with an unblemished 16-0 record, the first Emory doubles duo to go unbeaten in a season with a minimum of 15 matches played. On the other side of the net, Watson and Taylor close out a tremendous season as the national runners-up with a 12-4 record. All four Emory student-athletes earned All-America honors for their play this season and for this past week in Tennessee.
This marks the fifth-ever doubles national championship in the history of the Emory women’s tennis program and the first since the Eagles won four consecutive doubles crowns from 2001-2004 led by Emory Hall of Famer Mary Ellen Gordon who played on all four winning teams alongside Anusha Natarajan and Jolyn Taylor.
With the win, Gonzalez-Rico joins rarefied air as she completes the career triple crown: team national championship singles national championship and doubles national championship. She joins Gordon as the only two players to accomplish the feat in program history.
After the match began with Watson and Taylor winning the opening salvo, Gonzalez-Rico and Chang won six of the next seven games to cruise to a first set win, 6-2. The No. 2 Emory team did not back down however despite falling behind 4-2 in the second set. Watson and Taylor were able to claim five of the final six games to force a third and decisive set, winning 7-5.
In the final set, both teams held serve until Gonzalez-Rico and Chang grabbed a crucial break to move in front 3-2. They held serve in the next game for the 4-2 lead before Watson and Taylor did the same to make it 4-3. But that was as close as the set would be as the senior duo closed out the match with back-to-back wins to clinch the title.
The Eagles round out their impressive week at the Champions Club with the team national championship, a national championship and national runner-up performance in doubles, and a national runner-up effort in the singles tournament.
Carleton College Men’s Tennis Makes History
The Carleton College men’s tennis trophy case got a lot more crowded on Sunday. After waiting decades for the first national title in program history, the Knights only had to sit through another six hours before adding a second NCAA Championships title. Leo Vithoontien began the day with a 6-4, 5-6, 6-3 triumph in the final of the singles bracket, then he was joined by Xander Zuczek for straight-set victories in the semifinals and finals of the doubles bracket.
It made for a nine-hour day at the Champions Tennis Club, but the wait was worth it. Vithoontien became the first Carleton College tennis player—men’s or women’s—to claim an NCAA title when he defeated Boris Sorkin of Tufts University in the finals. Vithoontien was joined by Zuczek in being the first doubles national champions in school history. This was the 12th time in NCAA Division III Men’s Tennis history that a player won the national title in both the singles and doubles.
“I was a bit nervous coaching the guys today,” said Carleton head coach Stephan Zweifel, “especially since my only pearls of wisdom all season were ‘Did you wash your hands?'”
In the final of the singles bracket, Vithoontien trailed 4-3 in the opening set but won the next three games to take the set. Sorkin bounced back and captured the first three games of the second set en route to leveling the match at a set apiece. Sorkin won the opening game of the third and deciding set, but Vithoontien secured the next three games and later extended his lead to 5-2. Sorkin won a game to keep the match alive at 5-3 and led the next game 40-15 before Vithoontien stormed all the way back to clinch the victory.
“I managed to find a way to shift a gear back up and find some energy, whatever was left of me in that third set to really get my feet moving,” said Vithoontien. Vithoontien was seeded No. 4 in the 32-player field, but his path to the national title was not an easy one. He went the full three sets in his opening match of the tournament. He later defeated seeded opponents in the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals. “It was amazing we were able to compete this year, let alone win the national championship,” said Zuczek. “Neither [I] nor Leo thought the doubles title was possible. Luckily the kid had enough gas in the tank after his national singles title to help bring home the doubles title as well.”
After a break of a little over an hour, the doubles semifinal match got underway with Zuczek and Vithoontien taking down Will Leach and Luke Lemaitre of George Fox University 6-3, 6-4. The opening set was tied 3-3 before the Knights won the last three games. In the second set, the Carleton duo held a 4-3 advantage and fought off five break points to go up 5-3. The George Fox tandem held serve to make it 5-4. With Vithoontien serving, Zuczek’s smash at the net concluded a long rally and clinched the victory.
That result advanced the Carleton classmates into the finals where they dispatched of Jeffrey Chen and Adam Tzeng from Brandeis University 6-3, 6-2. Knotted 2-2 in the opening set, Carleton won the next three games. After Brandeis held serve to make it 5-3, Zuczek smashed home a lob to emphatically claim the first set. Thanks to an early break, Carleton grabbed a 3-2 edge in the second set. The Knights warded off two break points for Brandeis and extended the lead to 4-2. Vithoontien’s winner down the line capped another break of the Brandeis tandem, inching Carleton closer to the title. Zuzcek capped the tournament with a strong serve that was returned too long.
“The singles title meant a lot to me because I lost in the final two years ago,” said Vithoontien, “but for doubles, it meant a lot too, because of all the hard work Xander and I put in last year and this year. It’s also nice having both of us leave Chattanooga with our own pieces of hardware.” Zuczek and Vithoontien did not drop a set during the doubles tournament. All told, Vithoontien won nine matches (five singles, four doubles) in three days.
NCAA Division III champions in both singles and doubles (same year)
1978 — Chris Bussert, Kalamazoo
1982 — Shaun Miller, Gust. Adolphus
1989 — John Morris, Wash. & Lee
1993 — Ryan McKee, Claremont-M-S
1999 — Thomas Oechel, UC Santa Cruz
2001 — Derek Fitzpatrick, UC Santa Cruz
2003 — Eric Butorac, Gust. Adolphus
2005 — Matt Seeberger, UC Santa Cruz
2007 — Matt Seeberger, UC Santa Cruz
2015 — Warren Wood, Claremont-M-S
2017 — Lubomir Cuba, Middlebury
2021 — Leo Vithoontien, Carleton