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2015-2016 Women's Mid Season Perspective: A Season in Flux
February 10, 2016
For the past few years, an undisputed top team ruled women’s paddle. Ana Brzova and Viki Stoklosova dominated the women’s game, winning two consecutive national championships and countless other titles. Last year, Stoklasova sat out Nationals due to her pregnancy, and Brzova partnered with Liz Cruz for her third national title. But guess what? Cruz became pregnant, along with another of the game’s top players, Roxy Enica, leaving a lot of room for new players to emerge this season, and for some of the more established teams to reassert themselves at the top.
Top 6 Ranked Teams
Make no mistake about it, Brzova and Stoklosova are still the team to beat. After the birth of her daughter, Stoklasova was ready to play at the start of the season, and they came out on top at the Patterson Open, the first Grand Prix tournament. The win didn’t come easily, however, as Kerri Delmonico and Lauren Gebbia forced them to three sets in the semis, as did Amy Shay and Cynthia Dardis in the finals. Rounding out the semifinalists were Gabi Niculescu and Martina Ondrejkova, who lost a tough battle to Dardis and Shay but gave warning that despite their lack of experience, their impressive tennis skills and aggressive, attacking paddle style would make them very difficult for other teams to handle in the months to come.
The weekend after the Patterson Open, the same four teams (with Delmonico this time partnering with Dana Parsons), reached the semifinals of the Atlantic Classic, with Brzova and Stoklosova again coming out on top. This would prove to be their last title in 2015, with Stoklasova taking time off after Long Island and Brzova playing with several new partners.
November brought us the Chicago Charities, along with some questions. Who would be the new champions? Brzova and Stoklasova won the title in 2014, but weren’t defending their title. Brzova instead partnered with two-time Nationals finalist and Chicagoan Chelsea Nusslock. How would the impressive group of Midwestern teams fare against the teams from the East? Although Niculescu and Ondrejkova took the title, defeating top seeds Dardis and Shay in the semifinals and the Chicago team of Wendy Shpiz and Jane McNitt in the finals, the strong showing of teams from the Midwest signaled that this season would showcase a lot of great East/Midwest matchups. Along with McNitt and Shpiz, semifinalists Ania Kazakevich and Heather Prop played a great tournament, as did quarterfinalists Sandy Cevtovic and Marina Ohlmuller and Lynn Schneebeck and Jessica Guyaux.
The third Grand Prix tournament of 2015, the Long Island Invitational, showcased more parity at the top. Top-ranked Brzova and Stoklosova went out in the quarters to the Chicago pair of Suzanne Lemery and Kelly Rohrbach, and Niculescu and Ondrejkova also fell in the quarters to another Chicago duo, the hard hitting team of Hallie Bodman and Liz Hayward. Ultimately, though, moving through to the finals were the two teams with the most consistently good results this year—Dardis and Shay and Delmonico and Gebbia. By taking the title, Delmonico and Gebbia moved ahead of Dardis and Shay to number two in the rankings behind Brzova and Stoklosova, and demonstrated that, with different winners in each of the first three Grand Prix tournaments of the season, it is tough to predict who will be holding the trophy at the end of nationals in March.
The first Grand Prix tournament of 2016, The Midwesterns, fielded its strongest women’s bracket ever. Drawn by its new designation as a Grand Prix tournament with its attendant 4-star status, many of the top Eastern teams joined the always strong group of teams from the Midwest. Three of the top four seeds—Dardis/Shay, Kazakevich/Prop, Bodman/Hayward—all came through, but Brzova/Enica fell in the quarters to Liz Jaffe and Sue Tarzian. This was Enica’s first tournament of the season after giving birth to her son in November, and Jaffe and Tarzian, an extremely smart, patient team, were a difficult matchup for Brzova and Enica, particularly given Enica’s lack of tournament play. Bodman and Hayward got off to a slow start in their semifinal match with Kazakevich and Prop, but cut down on their errors and blasted their way to a three set victory. Jaffe and Tarzian came out strong in their semifinal against Dardis and Shay, but they were unable to capitalize on a 4-1 lead in the first set and went down in two close sets. In the final, Bodman and Hayward had a set point in the first set, but as Dardis and Shay proved in the semifinals and countless times before, they are never out of any set or match, and came back to win the set and the match in straight sets.
At Short Hills last weekend, Brzova and Stoklasova again figured out the puzzle, beating Delmonico and Gebbia in another entertaining match. Going into the last part of the season, the top three teams in the rankings, Brzova/Stoklasova, Delmonico/Gebbia, and Dardis/Shay have separated themselves from the rest of the contenders. All three of them, however, have faced stiff competition from teams in the top 12. Now that Cruz is back after the birth of her daughter, and teaming up with Enica, there is another dangerous team to keep an eye on. As the season heads into the last Grand Prix in Philadelphia and leading up to the Nationals, the team who will emerge at the top is anyone’s guess!