The No. 1 doubles team at St. John’s had been on fire. Winning eight of their nine matches this season, the Red Storm’s Anna Morozova and Natalie Vavulina have played strong.
But then they ran into an even stronger pairing. Winning the last four games of their March 29 match, William & Mary’s Jeltje Loomans and Leeza Nemchinov put Morozova and Vavulina back a step. The victory moved Loomans, a senior, and Nemchinov, a junior, to 41st in the ITA Division I doubles rankings in just their first season as partners.
They helped the Tribe win their 23rd CAA championship. Both won their singles matches in the NCAA Tournament, but the Tribe lost to Dartmouth 4-1. (For the complete bracket, see NCAA Tournament matchups.)
In doubles, they rolled to an 8-2 win over Taylor Ng and Kristina Mathis in a matchup of first-team all-Ivy League pairs. The Tribe twosome ran its win streak to eight, improving to 25-4 overall and 19-3 at No. 1.
Both will play again in the NCAA individual tournament May 20-25 in Waco, Texas, as the automatic qualifiers for the CAA. Nemchinov, who is ranked No. 53 nationally, also will compete in singles.
On the clay courts of Houten, a small Dutch town in the shadow of the city of Utrecht, Loomans first picked up a tennis racket when she was 5. While attending a school that gave her some leeway with junior tournament schedules, Loomans played throughout the Netherlands and was the Dutch national U15 champion.
Loomans started playing internationally at 14. Doubling as a field hockey player in high school, Loomans sought an American university where she could play high-level tennis and get a college education.
“William and Mary contacted me,” said Loomans. “A friend of my parents, who went to the University of Virginia, heard I was thinking about William & Mary. She was very enthusiastic about me going there. I didn’t even visit at all. I took her word for it.”
Loomans was the sixth William & Mary freshman to compete in the NCAA singles championship. Her 21 doubles victories that year led the team. With a 23-9 doubles record the following year, Loomans was named to the All-Colonial Athletic Association first team. She was a first-teamer her junior year as well.
Nemchinov, selected the CAA women’s player of the year by league coaches, took a slightly different route. While she didn’t start playing tennis until she was 11, she did have a sporting background, initially a gymnast, her father didn’t like the intensity and pressure in the sport.
“When I was young I wanted to try hockey for fun but I think my parents wanted me to have all my teeth,” said Nemchinov.
Nemchinov gets the hockey bug naturally — her father is Sergi Nemchinov, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils. Sergi Nemchinov took his daughter to a suburban New York park and introduced her to tennis. While he lived in Russia and the U.S., Leeza remained in the U.S. where she went to school.
Nemchinov made a big statement her first year at William & Mary, winning the CAA Rookie of the Year award. A nine-match win streak played a big part in that award. As a sophomore, she was named to the CAA first team in doubles and singles. But when she was paired with Loomans, they didn’t have much time to gel. Loomans was also getting back into the swing of things after missing all of last spring with an ankle injury. But that lack of prep time hasn’t hurt them as they have 19 doubles victories so far.
“We don’t need that much communication,” said Nemchinov “We both know what the other person is going to do.”
Both like to attack yet it is their contrasting styles that makes them a great doubles team.
“Our play is really aggressive,” said Loomans. “We put people on their heels.”
“We both have different strengths,” said Nemchinov “She does all the dirty work at the net and I set her up at the baseline. it is a good combination and we compliment each other.”