#1 Amherst to Host #2 Williams in Battle for NESCAC's Top Seed

Laken King
Laken King '11 has been phenomenal in Amherst's singles lineup this year.

AMHERST, MA – The next chapter in the Amherst-Williams women’s tennis rivalry will be written this Sunday when the top-ranked Lord Jeffs host the second-ranked Ephs at 1 p.m. in a regular season match that may wind up determining the top seed in the upcoming NESCAC Championship.

Sunday will mark the third consecutive meeting between these national powerhouses in which the team ranked No. 1 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) poll is taking on the No. 2 team. The lower ranked squad has won each of the past two and three of the past five in the rivalry.

Amherst traveled to Williams Oct. 3 for its first dual match of the 2009-10 season, pulling off the minor upset to improve to 8-0 on the Ephs’ home courts since the 2004-05 season. Amherst dropped two of the three doubles matches to Williams in the October match but rallied to win five of six singles pairings. Although the Jeffs have been dominant against their archrivals on the road, the teams are 3-3 against one another in Amherst in the past five years.

The Lord Jeffs are 10-0 against Division III competition this year, with their lone loss coming at the hands of NAIA powerhouse Concordia University (Irvine). Each of Amherst’s nine wins during the spring slate has come by a score of 9-0 or 8-1, including impressive victories over No. 8 Pomona-Pitzer, No. 11 Bowdoin and No. 12 Chapman.

Williams (9-2) is 9-1 against Division III teams this year, also suffering a 5-2 loss to Division I James Madison. The Ephs dropped to No. 3 in the ITA rankings earlier this year but climbed back to No. 2 thanks to wins over No. 3 Chicago, No. 4 Emory and No. 5 Washington & Lee.

Likely to face each other in Sunday’s top singles and doubles matches are Amherst’s Brittany Berckes ’10 and Williams’ Grace Baljon ’10, who have become quite familiar with one another since beginning their collegiate careers. The senior standouts have squared off in dual match singles play seven times since 2006, with five of those matches requiring three sets to determine a winner.

Berckes holds a slim 4-3 advantage over Baljon in the all-time series, as they have alternated wins and losses in the past four meetings. Berckes came out on top in the October 2009 meeting, dropping the first set before rallying for a win in a three-set tiebreaker. When they met this past fall in doubles play for the first time in their dual match careers, Baljon teamed up with Taylor French ’12 to defeat Berckes and Laura Danzig ’12, 9-8(3).

Also standing out for Williams is Kristin Alotta ’12, who won 41 consecutive singles matches before dropping back-to-back results to opponents from James Madison and Washington & Lee earlier this spring. Alotta will likely play in the No. 2 hole against Danzig, who is 9-0 against Division III competition this year. Natasha Brown ’11 and Laken King ’11 have been equally impressive for Amherst, each posting an 8-0 mark in Division III singles matches this season.

Two-time defending NCAA champion Williams has won four national titles in all (2001, 2002, 2008, 2009), with Amherst claiming the 1999 crown to mark the college’s first NCAA team championship. The Lord Jeffs have also twice featured the national doubles champions to go along with a pair of national singles champions, while the Ephs have been crowned doubles champs on two occasions.

The archrivals are 2-2 against each other all-time in NCAA Championship play, including 1-1 in national title matches. They have met in the NESCAC Championship finals in each of the past four years, with Amherst claiming the conference crown each time.

Amherst and Williams will each play this Saturday as well, with the Lord Jeffs hosting Hamilton College (3-7, 0-4 NESCAC) at 10 a.m. and the Ephs traveling to take on No. 17 Tufts (10-3, 5-0 NESCAC) at 1 p.m.

Projected Matchups for Sunday, Apr. 18:
1) Brittany Berckes/Laura Danzig (A) vs. Grace Baljon/Taylor French (W)
2) Jill Wexler/Natasha Brown (A) vs. Kristin Alotta/Nikki Reich (W)
3) Caroline Richman/Carlissa King (A) vs. Caroline Capute/Lucy Marchese (W)

1) Brittany Berckes (A) vs. Grace Baljon (W)
2) Laura Danzig (A) vs. Kristin Alotta (W)
3) Carlissa King (A) vs. Nikki Reich (W)
4) Jill Wexler (A) vs. Lucy Marchese (W)
5) Natasha Brown (A) vs. Nancy Worley (W)
6) Laken King (A) vs. Caroline Capute (W)