Winning a collegiate championship is extremely rare and most athletes will not win a championship during their career. Championship opportunities are few and far between. Sunday, October 20, 2019, marked a day that will live on forever in history for Eastern Nazarene College athletics. The ENC Women’s Tennis team seized the opportunity of a lifetime as they rallied in a comeback victory against Johnson and Wales University claiming our first GNAC Championship.
Carried by seniors Veronica Jimenez, Sharon Biondi, and junior Emily Ruttkowski, the Lions edged the top-seeded Johnson and Wales 5-4 in the championship game of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference tournament. This was a huge accomplishment for this shorthanded team with only six players. Head Coach Cristian Popa knew this was going to be a challenge, but he believed in his team. “I knew from the beginning we had the talent, we just have to be careful how we approach practice and matches to ensure everyone stays healthy,” says Popa. This “shorthanded” team brought all their different talents together for one common goal: winning.
This team truly came together not only by bringing different styles of play but also coming from all different parts of the world. Two players represent the United States while two hail from Germany, with others from Venezuela and Spain. Having a team made up of players from different parts of the world is unique. Senior Sharon Biondi believes being from different backgrounds actually helped her team come together to win the GNAC Championship. “We felt like a family and we each brought our own different style of play to the game,” she says. They even cheered each other on in English, Spanish, and German. This diversity and unique styles of play proved to propel ENC towards the championship title.
Winning MVP honors of the GNAC tournament was junior Emily Ruttkowski. She remained undefeated in singles matches this season as well as making first-team all GNAC singles and second-team all GNAC doubles. After an outstanding season and capturing a conference championship, Ruttkowski remains speechless and humbled. “This year it was amazing. I didn’t have words after my singles.” She says winning Most Valuable Player was cool, but she is more excited about capturing the conference championship with her team and she could not have done it without them. “Its’ nothing special for me, we won as a team. If I didn’t have my teammates we wouldn’t have made it this far,” says Ruttkowski.
Looking forward to the spring, when ENC Women’s Tennis will compete in the NCAA tournament for the first time ever, Coach Popa and his team are honored to be there. “Just to see ENC on the 64 name bracket board is incredible. It’s a huge accomplishment to put ENC on the map,” says Popa. Biondi says she is extremely excited about this opportunity. “It is a new experience for all of us because we haven’t been there before, but we have a lot of positive energy and we want to do our best and have fun.”
This team came together with six players representing four different countries and made history. Not too many teams or players can say they won a conference championship and are on their way to the NCAA tournament. As the Lions look back on a historic season filled with camaraderie and victory, they still have unfinished business. Watch out NCAA tournament, ENC will see you soon.