With a track record of six national championships in her first six years of coaching at Williams College, head women's tennis coach Alison Swain proves year after year the Williams Ephs should be a household name among D3 athletics. They have the most NCAA titles of any D3 tennis program, with nine total national championships in their history.
And they're not done yet.
In the 2016 NCAA Tournament, however, Williams fell short to Emory in the final match of the season and earned the No. 2 spot on the Oracle/ITA D3 Collegiate Tennis rankings. This loss marked the second loss to Emory in the same season, but Swain said the team really closed to gap from March and posted a much tougher fight than in the previous match. Emory's women's tennis program holds seven national titles and proves to be a force among D3 tennis programs each year.
Williams returnees, such as Juli Raventos, from Costa Rica, had competed against Emory before in the 2015 DIII NCAA tournament finals. Raventos also repeated as a DIII NCAA Doubles Champion with Linda Shin (Williams ’17) and was runner-up in the DIII NCAA Singles Tournament in 2016.
In 2014, the women ended their winning streak that began in 2008, yet they took back the title in 2015 to regain the top spot. The 2015 squad recorded the first undefeated season in Williams College history, with a 25-0 record. The drive after placing third in the 2014 NCAA tournament allowed the girls to conquer the conference and national championships. Where does a program look next after an undefeated season? In 2016, the women realized that sustaining that same level of drive year after year may be difficult.
The 2016 season commenced in the same fashion that the 2015 season finished, win streak that reached 28 matches. After several more wins in the opening of their spring season, however, the Ephs suffered their first loss of the year in March to Emory, which was the first time the team lost to this opponent in Swain's history of coaching the program. Then, in April, they fell to the Bowdoin Polar Bears, the first loss in women's tennis program's history. In 24 hours, the Ephs turned themselves around and endured yet another match, this time against Bates, where they regained focus on their team energy and earned another victory.
Looking back, Swain said this April 2016 loss truly marked a turning point for the year, and the team defeated Bowdoin in the 2016 NCAA semi-final match.
"We played flat that match, and it was a wake up call," Swain said. "We really take pride in how much heart we play with."
Moving forward from April, the team trained for a week before their final weekend of regular season matches, where they faced a double header. Typically, a double header can be grueling and tiring, but Swain said her team had their best and most enjoyable day of matches yet. The Ephs took their renewed focus from this final weekend into the national tournament and looked to earn another title for the record books.
Despite the No. 2 ranking, coach Swain lauds the competitiveness of the division.
"It's good for D3 to have parity," Swain said. "Great competition makes it exciting for fans and for players, and I hope other teams rise to that and continue pushing the teams."
The team has the experience and heart to capture the title in 2017, but coach Swain believes that earning a national championship does not begin with a goal of simply winning; from day one, she focuses on building a supportive team culture that feels connected and comfortable.
"I will work on the communication piece and learning what works best for the girls," Swain said.
She knows the tennis improvements will come naturally, but she really focuses on growing the team's atmosphere from the start. Three freshman will join the team for the 2016-2017 season, and Swain will be focusing on the process of coming together as a team and building relationships before even thinking about the national tournament.
"It's important to know what losing feels like, and the knowledge that our junior and senior classes have will be beneficial," Swain said. "The goal of winning a national title comes from the team, and they will be the one's driving that process."
The Ephs begin their season September 17 at the Lindsay Morehouse Invite.
Photo: Sophomore Juli Raventos | Courtesy: EphsSports.com