CASTLETON, Vt. – North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) Women's Tennis East Division Champion Castleton State College looks to make its third straight trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament when they take on West Division Champion Penn State Berks in the NEAC championship this Saturday at Tri-City Fitness in Latham, N.Y. at 11 am.
The winner of this match will advance to the NCAA Division III National Women's Tennis Tournament by virtue of the NEAC's automatic qualifier. Beginning with the 2010 season, the NEAC partnered with the North Atlantic Conference (NAC) and the NAC competes as associate members of the NEAC in tennis as members of the East Division, while the NEAC are under the West Division umbrella.
Castleton has captured the automatic berth in each of the agreement's first two years. In 2010 the team dropped a 5-0 decision to Bowdoin and last year the Spartans fell 5-0 to a tough Skidmore squad.
Setting the Stage
The Spartans clinched the NEAC East Championship for the third consecutive season last fall with a dramatic 5-4 victory over conference newcomer Colby-Sawyer. In a match that lasted over five hours, the deciding point came down to a battle at No. 2 singles. Senior Kate Bucci (Wakefield, R.I.) dropped her first set before taking the second 7-6 and winning the final set 7-5. The victory gave Castleton a 13-4 record and avenged their only conference loss of the season.
Bucci is one of three seniors who were named first-team All-NEAC East and have been a part of all three NEAC East Championships. Senior Michelle Podnecky (Bridgewater, Vt.) is the two-time reigning NEAC East Player of the Year and owns a 39-6 mark at No. 1 singles over the team's three years in the NEAC. Bucci has played primarily at No. 2 over the past two years and has a 22-8 record over that span. Brittni Racine is the third senior and went 14-3 at No. 3 singles last fall, including a straight-set win in the championship.
The Nittany Lions have played the majority of their matches this spring and clinched the West Division Championship last weekend with a tight 5-4 victory over Wells College. In that match, the two teams were knotted at 4-4 before Arion Harris clinched the 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 win.
Penn St. - Berks comes into the championship game with a 10-5 record and a three-match winning streak. The Nittany Lions are just 7-7 and 8-7 at the top of the lineup, but have used their extensive depth to overwhelm opponents this season. Harris is 9-1 at No. 3 singles this season, and a group of players have combined to go an impressive 12-3 at No. 4 singles. They are also 9-6 at No. 5 and 12-3 at No. 6 this season.
Both teams previous met in the 2010 championship, with Castleton earning a hard-fought 5-4 victory. Podnecky, Racine and Chelsea Crehan captured singles wins at No. 1, 4 & 5 and the Spartans also won at No. 1 and No. 3 doubles to clinch the win.