BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh women’s tennis team will host the Patriot League tournament this weekend on the Ulrich Varsity Courts. The Mountain Hawks are the No. 4 seed in the field and will play No. 5 seed Bucknell Friday at 10 a.m. in the first of three quarterfinal matches. Bucknell has won the last seven matches in the series, including a 5-2 triumph last week. Lehigh will be looking for its first win over the Bison since 2006 and its first Patriot League semifinal appearance since 2009.
Bucknell enters the weekend on a two-match winning streak, with the wins coming against Lafayette and Robert Morris. The Bison (5-16, 2-3 PL) have struggled on the road this season with the lone win away from Lewisburg coming at Lafayette.
“Anything can happen in the Patriot League tournament,” Lehigh head coach Dave Shook said. “It’s important for us to prepare accordingly by using information garnered from previous matches with teams to our advantages.”
In its first match with Bucknell back on April 13, Lehigh was swept, but remained close in the doubles matches and won only two of six singles matches. Shook expects a different result on Friday with the hopes his team will jump on the Bison early.
“I’m looking forward to everybody stepping up,” Shook said. “If we come out and win the doubles matches, then win at least our first two singles matches, I’d feel even better about our chances.”
The Mountain Hawks have gotten strong contributions from sophomore Jenai Bilimoria and freshman Abby Farrell at the No. 1 and 2 singles spots, respectively. Both have registered six singles wins and were responsible for the team’s two wins against Bucknell last week. Bilimoria’s efforts are especially significant considering she’s stepped up to the top spot for injured classmate Taylor Hampshire and hasn’t missed a beat.
Shook has been impressed with the steady growth of Farrell and fellow freshmen Emily Bruch and Gabby Drucker. Farrell has won her last three league matches and leads the team with six doubles victories. Drucker has been solid in doubles play and impressed with her attack at the net. “I’m looking to get the maximum performance out of our freshmen this weekend,” Shook said.
As expected, the stakes and match format will be different this weekend. Once two of three doubles matches are won by one team, the third match on court will stop, even if not complete. With singles, once a team reaches the four wins to win the match, all other matches in progress will end.
“We’ve had an intense week of practice and worked on several drills,” senior Liz Piscitelli said. “We need to continue to improve our doubles play, as winning the doubles point will be that much more important because of the times style of play.
Piscitelli continued, “The different format will make the matches more of a race, which is never the case in any other format. It’s definitely more of a challenge because you need to get off to a great start and hold onto it.”
Piscitelli will miss the tournament with an injury suffered in the first Bucknell match but she, along with Bilimoria and sophomores Kathleen Larkin and Jill Sloand, have all played roles in the team’s improvement this season. They’ve displayed a lot of confidence, especially in league play, and have played major roles in keeping the freshmen up-to-speed. It’s a formula for success Shook hopes will continue this weekend.
The Patriot League will begin Friday at 10 a.m. with the Lehigh-Bucknell match, play will continue when No.3 Colgate faces No. 6 Lafayette at 1 p.m. The last quarterfinal match will begin at 3 p.m. when No. 2 seed Army meets No. 7 Colgate.
The winner of the Lehigh-Bucknell matchup will face top seed Navy in Saturday’s first semifinal at 10 a.m. The second semi-final is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. and will feature the victor of the Colgate-Lafayette and Army-Holy Cross matchups. The championship match will be played on Sunday at 1 p.m. In case of inclement weather, matches will be moved inside the Lewis Tennis Center.
Story by Antoine Williams ‘12