Perfect season concludes with conference championship – Women’s tennis defeats Franciscan in PAC Championship 5-4

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Ed Mailliard

The Allegheny women’s tennis team hoisting the championship flag after defeating Franciscan 5-4 at the Robertson Athletic Complex.

The Allegheny women’s tennis team brought home a Presidents’ Athletic Conference Championship — their first championship win in 37 years — after defeating Franciscan 5-4 in a back-and-forth thriller. The team’s perfect 15-0 fall season had lineup highlights from top to bottom, and the Gators defined a new era of tennis under the leadership of Head Coach Dave Hayden in his second year at the college.
“We’re all pretty excited,” Hayden said. “It was a great accomplishment, a great group of girls on the team, it was just a fun season.”
The championship was held on Allegheny’s home court at the Robertson Athletic Complex. The Gators fell behind early during doubles play, dropping two of three games to begin the match. Moving into singles play they gained the lead right back, thanks to victories from Jean-Arlette Legrand, ’24, and Maria Lounder, ’26, to make it 3-2.
Coming down to the wire, Franciscan’s Maria Hererra and Claire Cardie put the Gators hopes on hold as they gave their team a 4-3 lead with back-to-back victories. Needing the next two matches, Ryan Cox, ’26, and Ella Swan, ’23, were called upon to be the heroes.
Cox got it going early, taking down the first set 6-4 against Franciscan’s Estelle Leon. She followed the win with another in the second set 6-2, setting up a winner-takes-all for the final match of the season.
Swan trailed early in the first set, but prevailed 7-6 over Franciscan’s Kina Ehlers. Swan carried the momentum into set two; after jumping out to a 3-2 lead she did not concede another point, and brought home the hardware for Allegheny in a 6-2 finale.
“Our women have been so strong all year,” Hayden said “Even when we were down 4-3 I felt pretty confident we could come back to win.”
The Gators had a rigorous preseason schedule to prepare them for the year. Early camps, practices and team lifts were all in order, in addition to the work players completed over the summer to gear the team toward success. When the trophy was finally presented, it was a surreal feeling for everyone on the team.
“I honestly couldn’t believe it,” Legrand said. “I just thought back on how hard we worked, for every single one of us that hard work paid off.”
No other team has amassed this kind of run in the program’s 46 year history. During the 1992-93 season, the Gators opened up the year with the second best start in program history; earning 13 straight victories before falling to Wooster and eventually ending the season at 18-4 including the spring.
While the current team is yet to play their spring season they have already made history, as well as earning a bid for the NCAA Division III National Championships in May 2023. The Gators will compete in a bracket-styled format, matching up against the best schools in the country. They will be wasting no time getting to work for their trip down to the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida.
“We’re gonna keep working hard for that,” Rodriguez said. “That’s our mindset and we’re going to keep training our mental game.”
Rodriguez was a major part of the Gators success this season. She played in all 15 singles matches while also playing in 11 doubles matches, winning every game for both competitions except one.
For her a big motivating factor this season was the atmosphere brought from the team. The Gator’s lineup has talent from all classes, and the competition brought to the table encourages all players to keep working on their game to earn playing time.
“Seeing how hard working and talented everyone is on the team just inspires us to work even harder,” Rodriguez said.
The Gators will open up their spring season with a trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina. They are set to open on Saturday, March 4, though it is not certain who their competition will be. The team will look to continue making their mark, as they keep their eyes locked on the NCAA tournament in May.