Thunder defeat Vikings in turnaround title run

By Cassidy Thornburg, Sports Editor

After losing to Augustana College by one point the week before, the Thunder came back and beat the Vikings by one point on Oct. 19. The victory marked the program’s 22nd conference title.

Recapping the Road to the Conference Tournament

The Thunder had strung together 10 wins before dropping their final regular-season match to the Augustana Vikings on Oct. 12.

Following the loss, Coach Jane Nelson talked about the expectations that arise from winning with such consistency. “The longer the streak continues, the more pressure there is to keep it,” she said. “There’s a lot of glory with a 10-0 record. It looks good, but each player has to have the desire to keep it.”

The Oct. 12 pre-conference match was originally scheduled to take place outside at the Clark Tennis Courts in the center of Wheaton’s campus, but at the last minute was moved to the indoor tennis courts at the Wheaton Sports Center due to inclement weather conditions.

The Thunder’s No. 2 doubles Nicole Freeman and Claire Dibble picked up an 8-7 win, and their No. 3 doubles Emme Linquist and Bethany Hoogerheide came through with an 8-6 decision, both giving Wheaton an early lead.

“One of our greatest strengths this season has been in doubles, which is different from how it’s been most other years I’ve been on the team,” said Freeman.

Despite the Thunder’s early efforts, the Vikings proved slightly superior in singles to give them the final edge and a 5-4 win.

“Augustana just played very, very, well,” Nelson said after the match. Proud of her team’s efforts, she added, “But Augustana had to earn it.”

“I think losing to Augustana in the regular season in a sense prepared us for the conference tournament,” Freeman said. “Every single match was super close. Even though we lost, we knew it was an attainable goal to win the next weekend. We were able to take notes on things we needed to tweak in our game before the tournament and it took some pressure off of us going into the tournament, as Augustana had the one seed.”

2019 CCIW Women’s Tennis Championship

The Thunder entered the final series Saturday four points back from Augustana, who remained the team to beat. The Vikings finished the regular season undefeated and comfortably took down the other teams in the tournament, putting up 50 points over two days.

“We reminded ourselves going into the conference finals that all the pressure was on Augustana, which helped us play freely,” Freeman said.

“Our loss to Augustana before the conference tournament simply made us more determined to give everything we had going into the final round,” senior captain Claire Browning added. “Augustana has always been a good team and our main competition throughout the year, which only pushes us to be a better team.”

Through six head-to-head matchups, the Thunder outplayed the Vikings. Dibble, Freeman, Abygale Ahn, Hoogerheide and Browning each won their singles matchups.

“I’m so proud of the team,” Coach Nelson said after the team’s win. “We have talked all season about putting ourselves in a position to win the conference championship. Every player on our roster played a role in this win. Everyone came to practice daily and pushed each other to get better. It was a real battle with Augustana today. They have a very good team. We played really well under pressure and came from behind to win the title. Our two senior captains, Claire Browning and Nicole Freeman, won all of their matches today in singles and doubles and really led the team. We refused to lose.”

Browning agreed with her coach’s assessment. “Every girl on our team has shown so much determination this season not only to improve their own skills, but to improve each one of their teammate’s skills,” she said. “It was evident in everyone’s performance that they were not just playing for themselves, but for each person playing beside them, and that has made playing for this team so special.”

What’s Next?

Browning and Freeman’s tenure as captains is not up yet. They will continue leading the Thunder after a short break from competition. The Wheaton Women’s Tennis team will get back on the court in spring 2020 for match play. The top four teams from last weekend’s fall conference tournament automatically qualify. Alongside Augustana, Carthage and North Central, the Thunder have secured themselves a spot in the spring tournament where they look to continue pushing their competitors to “earn every point.”

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