Tennis drops regular season finale vs. UMass ahead of A-10 Championships

First-year Nikki Fernando paired with first-year Priyanka Shanker for URI’s only win of the afternoon – a 6-4 doubles victory. Photo Courtesy of:

This past Saturday The University of Rhode Island’s women’s tennis team fought to defend their home court in a regular season finale matchup vs. the University of Massachusetts. 

Umass would go on to spoil the Rams senior night, walking away from the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport with a 4-0 victory.

Emotions were at an all time high for the Rams as they watched fifth-year Paulina Loredo and their head coach Val Villucci step on their home court for a final time, according to fourth-year Nadia Rajan.

“It’s definitely a hard one.. You just probably cried,” said Rajan. “She [Loredo] has been here since I was a freshman.”

As for Villucci, who is stepping away from her coaching career, it was her 25th year of coaching college tennis.

It was a tough draw for URI facing Umass as the final matchup of the regular season, as the Minutewomen were riding the high of a 5-1 record in A-10 play this year, making for a difficult senior night matchup. 

Three simultaneous doubles matches would kick off the end to the 2023 regular season campaign. Despite a disastrous night on paper for the Rams, these matches remained competitive, and certainly were not indicative of the final score. 

This was, though, indicative of the 2023 season for URI, according to Rajan. “This semester’s been pretty rough,” Rajan said “We may have not had the best season on paper, but as a group it’s been the closest we’ve been in years.” 

The first of three pairs that would represent Rhode Island were first-year Sophie Herman along with third-year Valentina Cvackova. The next duo would consist of URI’s most veteran presences, Loredo and Rajan. 

The only Rams duo to grab a win on the night belonged to its least experienced one, consisting of two first-years, Priyanka Shanker and Niki Fernando.

Shanker and Frenando’s lone win for URI came in a 6-4 victory against Umass’s duo of fifth-year Dylan Cannon and second-year Thamonpan Jonglertrakul. With this win, the young duo for URI advanced to 8-2 on the year as a pair.

“Pryianka and Niki, they are great,” said Rajan. “They’re a great duo together, I really hope that they’re still a duo next year.”

The two aforementioned Rams duos of Herman and Cvackova and Loredo and Rajan would fall to Umass with a 7-6 and 6-2 loss respectively. With this, Umass would earn the team point for doubles. 

The singles matches of the night sang a similar tune to the doubles, with URI going winless in the three contests that went official. 

For the Rams, it was Rajan, Loredo, and first-year Ava Grnja who competed in the singles matches that went final, with all three matches ending in a two sets to none for URI. 

Fernando, Herman, and Cvackova would be sent home early for URI, with their matches not finishing due to Umass collecting four total team points to secure their victory. 

Despite that, it was Fernando who displayed the most valiant effort for the Rams, when her match ended after just two sets, she had suffered a hard fought 7-6 loss, with her second set cut short at a 1-1 tie. 

This season finale made for a fitting ending to a relatively disappointing season. Despite that, the Rams remain hopeful for next year.

“There’s a lot of positives going into next year,” said Rajan. “People will be more experienced for the season… this year was definitely a big transition year… I’m just looking at it very positively, obviously next year is my last year so I want to make it the best I can.”

Luckily, before the season comes to a close, the Rams will have a chance to bounce back and start building for next season, when they compete in the Atlantic 10 Championship next weekend in Lake Nona, Florida.