The success of the tennis program dates back to some of its earliest years. The 2001-2002 Saint Mary’s tennis team, however, was one of the first of the College’s NCAA Division III teams to make the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the region take notice and put Belles athletics solidly on the map.
The team posted a 17-6 overall record with three of those losses coming at the hand of NCAA Division I programs early in the season. Two of those three setbacks against Division I teams were 5-4 finals. Two of the three losses against fellow Division III teams came at the hands of teams who made the NCAA Tournament in 2002. That strong competition early in the season helped prepare the team for an impressive showing in conference competition.
Riding on the coattails of the program’s first MIAA Championship the year prior, the Belles steamrolled most of their competition en route to the second MIAA regular season and tournament titles in 2002. The Belles did not just win – they were dominant. The team defeated every MIAA opponent by a 6-3 or better score that spring, led by First Team All-MIAA performances by Annie Knish and Jeannie Knish and a Second Team All-MIAA effort by Kaitlin Cutler. Their 7-0 conference record saw the Belles defeat their opponents by a combined margin of 53-10. Looking even more closely at the team’s conference championship, the Belles took an astounding 721 games in those matches and won over 68 percent of the games played in MIAA matches that spring.
In the conference tournament, the team continued to show their overall strength as the Belles played for flight championships in eight of the nine finals. Saint Mary’s took the top spots in five of those flights – two singles, three singles, four singles, five singles, and two doubles – as the team took their second MIAA Tournament in as many years.
In an era when the conference champion was not guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament, it was still up in the air whether or not the NCAA would give the team a spot in the NCAA Tournament as only 26 Division III teams made the field in 2002. When the time came, the Belles got the call and earned just the eighth berth by a conference member dating back to 1986. These trailblazers were the first Division III team for the Saint Mary’s Department of Athletics to earn a berth to an NCAA Championship Tournament.