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Second PAC championship sweeter for Santa

| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Butler graduate Heather Santa excelled at No. 4 singles for the Westminster women's tennis team this season. Santa has won back-to-back individual titles for the Titans.
Butler graduate Heather Santa excelled at No. 4 singles for the Westminster women's tennis team this season. Santa has won back-to-back individual titles for the Titans.
Heather Santa
Heather Santa

The repeat is sweet for Heather Santa.

Westminster College's women's tennis team captured its second straight Presidents' Athletic Conference team championship in October. Santa, a Butler High School product, earned her second straight individual title as well.

However, the Titans senior believes this year's accomplishments are better because Westminster won the title outright after sharing it with St. Vincent last year.

“Last year, we were co-champs, so it was kind of bittersweet,” Santa said. “This year, especially since I was able to win and bring points to help our team win it again, it felt even better.”

This season, the Titans claimed four singles flight championships and one doubles flight title to finish with 54 team points. They edged second-place Grove City by just six points for the crown. In addition, it earned Westminster the PAC's automatic bid to the 2014 NCAA Division III Women's Tennis Championship, scheduled for May 19-24.

Even though they tied for the team championship last year, the Titans missed out on the NCAA Tournament berth because St. Vincent had a head-to-head victory over Westminster.

“Whenever we first started the season, we wanted to win really bad,” Santa said. “To do it again, especially with the team having three new freshmen (come into the lineup), that's outstanding.

“The returning players, like Caitie (Hosler) and Lauren (Fling) and I, we knew what we'd have to do to step up and keep the rest of the team strong again this season. We plugged in some new freshmen and we showed them how intense the matches would be, especially against two of our biggest rivals in Grove City and St. Vincent. It worked out pretty well.”

Santa finished with a 13-1 singles record this year and cruised to her second straight PAC title at No. 4 singles in straight sets (6-0, 6-0) over Geneva's Christine Bullock, who was seeded fifth. Bullock upset Thomas More's Anna Heltzer, the top seed and the only person to defeat Santa this fall. Santa did not lose a game against her three opponents.

“I was pretty determined to win again,” Santa said. “It was kind of sad not getting a chance to play the girl I lost to earlier in the year. I knew that, during the season, I could have beaten her. I wanted to beat someone I lost to because it would have made the title so much greater. But I was happy to win. During all my matches at the PAC tournament, I was so motivated. All my friends said that was the best I had played all season. I was really determined to do my best and win and get points for my team.”

Santa and Fling teamed up to finish second at No. 2 doubles for the third year in a row. The Westminster duo fell to Grove City's Kendra Tetrick and Linnea Peters, 8-4, in the championship.

“Grove City had a really strong team. I feel one girl who was struggling earlier in the year really progressed,” Santa said. “Grove City has been our toughest competition since Lauren and I first started playing doubles, so we knew it was going to be a difficult match. We can't be disappointed because we played well and had a good season and Grove City is a good team.”

Santa, who has a 39-7 career singles record and a 37-13 doubles mark at Westminster, and her teammates are off until their annual spring break trip to Hilton Head, S.C., where they'll play three matches in March before preparing for the NCAA Tournament.

“It's fun to see how good other D-III schools are,” said Santa, a neuroscience major. “Everyone will be competing. It's a good way to end my career. I am looking forward to it, but it's still sort of sad.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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