ERIE, Pa. - On Saturday at the Westwood Racquet Club in Erie, Pennsylvania, the Franciscan University Lady Barons took the first step toward a second consecutive conference title, defeating the Pitt.-Greensburg Bobcats 9-0 in the semifinals of AMCC postseason play.
After animated warmups, the Lady Barons took the courts for doubles. After a quick break of serve, sophomore Madelyn Conrad and junior team captain Maria Binette accused a quick 2-0 lead at No. 1 doubles. Conrad found volley opportunities early and often at the net in early games, bolstered by several Binette slice backhands. After a brief hiccup, the duo stretched a 4-1 lead behind multiple breaks of serve, and closed the match on their own terms, 8-1.
At No. 3 doubles, junior tandem Taranee Karimpour and Julia Razook played perhaps their best match of the season, to date. Karimpour's decisive groundstrokes, punctuated by Razook's typical net dominance, lent itself to a painless 5-0 lead. Their lead would only lengthen, as Razook and Karimpour began to rush the net, abbreviating rallies and finishing in front of the service line. The pair never faced a break point during the match, and soon left the court after putting an 8-0 win in the books.
Short points characterized play at No. 3 doubles, where senior team captain Emmy Mathias and sophomore Gracie Hammel would find themselves three games into the match before losing a point. Hammel showed characteristic patience at the baseline, facilitating easy Mathias volley winners with slice backhand service returns. After dropping a game, Franciscan held Mathias' serve for 6-1; the following exchange saw them save five game points, before earning and capitalizing on a break opportunity, courtesy of a Hammel cross court forehand winner and volley putaway, respectively. Hammel threw an ace in her final service game, and served out the match for the 8-1 win.
Up 3-0 in the AMCC semifinals after the conclusion of doubles, singles play soon characterized all six courts. Playing only to decision, the race for the fourth and fifth point was on.
Binette soon made it clear that her No. 2 singles match was to be one to such match. She raced a lead behind drop shots at regular intervals, an unorthodox style of play for the junior. Approaching the net on nearly every point, especially after taking the first set 6-0, Binette kept her opponent continually off balance, dictating her will from the baseline, and serving up a heavy dose of backspin-laden slices. Binette did well to exploit wide open angles early in rallies, and took the second set as she did the first, 6-0, on her opponent's service return error.
Soon afterward, with family in attendance, it was Hammel registered the fifth and final official point on the day for the Lady Barons. Down 1-0 in the first set, she found quick footing, reeling off six straight games for the first set behind lengthened rallies, patient groundstrokes, and rallies devoid of errors which plagued the match's early stages. She maintained the pressure early in the second set, finding her opponent's backhand early in baseline exchanges, and capitalizing on short balls for consecutive breaks of serve.
Up 5-2, Hammel broke serve for the match, assisted by a double fault and a Bobcat error, to take the fifth and final point, effectively sending the Lady Barons into their second consecutive AMCC finals.
At the time the match was called, each Lady Baron was winning her prospective match. Karimpour was the next closest to completion, sporting a 6-0, 4-1 No. 5 singles match lead typified by textbook groundstroke consistency, mixed with a regular willingness to finish points at the net. Conrad also nursed a commanding 6-2, 3-0 No. 1 singles lead on court one, after shaking off uncharacteristic forehand errors early on.
Elsewhere, Razook was on the positive end of a 6-2, 2-1 No. 4 singles matchup; Mathias was leading by the same score at the No. 6 spot.
The next time the Lady Barons take the Erie courts, it will be in defense of their AMCC title, against Penn. St.-Altoona. Doubles play is set to begin at noon.