The Bowdoin women’s tennis team (12-4, 5-2 NESCAC) sent a message to the rest of the NESCAC with a historic 6-3 victory over second-ranked Williams (14-3, 5-1 NESCAC) on Saturday. The win marks the Polar Bears’ first-ever victory over the Ephs after losing each of the previous 28 meetings.

“I expected a hard match,” said Joulia Likhanskaia ’17 who plays first singles for the team. “I didn’t know who was going to win going in, but we all just really pushed ourselves to the limit and got a great result.”

Bowdoin showed toughness early on, as two of the three doubles teams had impressive comeback victories. The team of Likhanskaia and Tiffany Cheng ’16 found a way to rally back from a 4-1 deficit and win the match 8-6. The pair of Pilar Giffenig ’17 and Maddie Rolph ’19 also dug themselves out of a 4-1 hole to win 9-7. Tess Trinka ’18 and Kyra Silitch ’17 won the other doubles match by a score of 8-5.

“Winning all three doubles matches was huge, but what wasequally huge was the way that we won them,” Likhanskaia said.

In singles, the Polar Bears displayed grace under pressure for the rest of the afternoon. Sam Stalder ’17 came back from losing the second set 6-1 to win an intense third, 7-6. Likhanskaia also won a hard fought three set match, and Cheng won a close two-set match 7-5, 7-6. Stalder was the first player to win her singles match, which brought the Polar Bears within one win of defeating Williams for the first time. Cheng’s win clinched the victory and also took pressure off of Likhanskaia, which allowed her to put the match further out of reach.

“I think the talent levels in almost of all of the matches were very even,” Likhanskaia said. “We just willed ourselves to the win.”

Another factor that drove the team to its victory over the Ephs was the enthusiasm of the large crowd in attendance, many of whom were alumni returning for reunion weekend. Bowdoin fed off this energy and remained resilient even when Williams began to chip away at the Polar Bears’ lead.

“The fact [that it was] during reunion weekend was amazing,” Likhanskaia said. “We had a huge crowd and all of these alums cheering which really helped motivate everybody right until the end.”

Still, the victory was far from a sure bet after Bowdoin’s disappointing performances the weekend before. The Polar Bears lost to NESCAC rival Middlebury 7-2 and top-ranked Emory 8-1. Following the defeats, Bowdoin fell to 11-4 on the season.

“We regrouped after the losses to Middlebury and Emory. We all sat down and had a long talk with each other,” Likhanskaia said. “I think that talk really helped put us in the right mindset on Saturday…Everyone was playing for each other.”

Though the victory against the Ephs was an upset, the gap between Bowdoin and Williams has been narrowing in recent seasons. Two years ago, the Polar Bears lost 7-2, and last year, they lost by only one match in the regular season.

“We’ve definitely been progressively gaining on Williams over the past couple of years,” Likhanskaia said. “So far, this has been our best performance as a team, and I think we’ve kept on improving throughout the season to get to this point.”

“I can’t speak for everyone on the team, but I think this is probably the most satisfying win that I’ve had at Bowdoin,” she continued. “The win reminded us how good we are this year, and it really gave us our confidence back.”

The team got an extra day off to savor the big win, but they will face a difficult Tufts team on the road this weekend.

“We need to remain aware that Tufts is better this year, and we should expect a hard match,” Likhanskaia said.

Bowdoin has won its last four contests against the Jumbos, but this year, Tufts is much improved.

The team will return to action against Tufts at 10 a.m. on Saturday.  

The Polar Bears will also have to prepare for the NESCAC playoffs, which start next weekend.