The UWM Panthers faced a daunting task ahead of them this season with a very young and inexperienced team. They were led by first year head coach Greg Cromwell, and four incoming freshmen, starting with their top singles player throughout the year, Diana Tokar from Ukraine. Tokar was highly touted after winning both the singles and doubles of the Ukrainian Championships, and being ranked in the top 1000 by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). Hayley Marshall, Aerielle Pendleton and Alysa Straub also were new to the team hoping to bring big successes. This talented team also featured Kristin Kurer, the teams only senior and one of the winningest players in program history with a chance to become the all-time leader in wins during the season. Christina Colarossi, Chelsea Bailey and Dana Shannon rounded out the rest of their squad.
The Panthers began their fall season at the Gopher Invitational in Minnesota, where Alysa Straub and Chelsea Bailey won the first two matches of the season for the Panthers. Straub was the Panthers best individual finisher taking fifth place by winning three matches, while Bailey took sixth place in her flight with two wins. Dana Shannon and Aerielle Pendleton also captured the Gopher doubles flight on day two of the invitational.
The next weekend, they went to Northern Iowa and continued their success on Day 1 as the Panthers won 11 of the 13 singles matches and two out of the three doubles matches. Dana Shannon, Alysa Straub, Aerielle Pendleton, Christina Colarossi and Kristin Kurer all went unbeaten in singles play. The Panthers finished the weekend on a high note, specifically Kurer who took home a doubles and a singles title. In the doubles, she was paired with Colarossi. Straub and Pendleton took third place in their flights, and Shannon taking second.
The next tournament was in Whitewater where on the first day, Hayley Marshall and Alysa Straub won three matches to claim the doubles title and the duo of Aerielle Pendleton/Kristin Kurer took third. Straub continued her stellar weekend by dominating her three singles matches the next day to win her singles flight, and Christina Colarossi would take second in her singles flight.
The Panthers would wrap up their fall season at regionals in Rockford, Ill and Ann Arbor, Mich. Kristin Kurer would win the singles title in impressive fashion while in the process winning her 73rd career match, which is the most in Milwaukee history. Aerielle Pendleton also reached the finals, but was less fortunate as she couldn’t manage to get a game in her defeat. Alysa Straub/Kurer also took third in doubles.
The Panthers would get their spring season off to a good start by beating Drake 5-2 by getting the doubles point and then winning the last four singles points. They would then hit their roughest patch of the season losing five straight matches; facing Iowa State, Wisconsin, DePaul, Marquette and Michigan State, while not getting more than one point in any of them.
Once the calendar hit March however, the Panthers would become red-hot; winning 12 of their last 15 matches, including a stretch of eight wins in a row heading into the Horizon League Tournament. The highlights of this stretch included the Panthers starting off their Horizon league season with a 7-0 thumping of UWGB. They won all singles matches in straight sets and only lost one game in doubles play.
The next weekend they would complete their second straight sweep in a very routine win, this time against Western Illinois. No singles player lost a single game, while the doubles teams only lost a combined two games.
The only dent during this winning stretch would come the next two weeks where the win streak of three matches would end against Northern Iowa 5-2, and then another loss the next day against Illinois St by the same score. Tokar, Straub and Kurer would collect the four points in singles during that two match stretch.
Then the next weekend would be the beginning of the eight match win streak with a convincing win over IUPUI by a score of 6-1. The next day would mark their second straight league win taking care of Oakland 5-2. But the highlight of the weekend would be a huge win for the Panthers where they took down Detroit, who was picked to take second in the league, by a very tight score of 4-3. That was their third straight league win, equaling their best in program history. Dana Shannon went down due to a season ending injury earlier in the weekend but that didn’t stop the Panthers from playing their heart out and getting a huge win. Diana Tokar, Christina Colarossi and Kristin Kurer got the singles wins while Aerielle Pendleton/Tokar and Colarossi/Kurer also won to pick up the doubles point.
The next weekend the Panthers would keep the hot streak going with a pair of non-conference wins over Bradley and South Dakota. The sixth straight win was another memorable win for the Panthers as for the first time in program history, they defeated UIC. UWM was able to get the doubles point, and after that the singles saw UIC gain a slight 3-2 edge to level the match at three. It came down to the sixth spot of the singles with Kristin Kurer forcing a third set after losing a tough first set 5-7. The celebration began after Kurer came through in the third by another tight set score of 6-4 to complete another thrilling win for the Panthers.
The Panthers would come back the next day fresh off an enormous win and would not feel any lasting effects, sweeping Valparaiso to win their fifth straight league match, and seventh match overall. The next weekend, the Panthers would make it eight straight wins by edging out Youngstown State 4-3. That was also their sixth straight league win which tied a program record for most wins in one season. They took the doubles point and Diana Tokar also helped by keeping her solid season rolling by winning her 10th singles match of the spring year, all in the top spot.
The winning streak finally ended after they had to come back and play against Cleveland State the next morning, only about 12 hours after the tough YSU win. This was also their first league loss of the year, but despite the loss they remained in first place in the league.
The Panthers would close out an incredible regular season by recording their fourth sweep of the year cruising past Wright State. This win clinched their first ever Horizon League title after being picked to take fifth in the league.
The Panthers would receive the two seed in the Horizon League Tournament with a bye and match up against Youngstown State after they won their first round match. The Panthers dropped the doubles point to start the day and lost two of the first three singles matches to go down 3-1. Another match in progress saw Alysa Straub lose the first set 1-6 which put the Panthers tournament hopes in jeopardy, but then she would recover to win the next two sets to make it 3-2. Christina Colarossi would win in straight sets to level the match at three. It would then all come down to the top singles match featuring Diana Tokar, which went into a third set after Tokar won the first set and then was broken while serving for the match at 5-4 in the 2nd. After that, she would lose the next eight games to end the Panthers fantastic season.
One of the top yearly honors the Panthers received was Diana Tokar getting named to the First-Team All-Horizon League team. She had a great season helping the Panthers clinch their first ever league title with a 12-7 overall record in singles and 7-1 against Horizon League opponents. This marks the fourth straight year UWM has had at least one player earn all-league honors, the longest stretch in team history.
“I’m extremely proud of this team. I’m in my first year here, we lost one of our top players to season-ending injury, and, like I said, we operate with less than other teams at this tourney, and yet we won the league. I think that says something about the kind of players we have; about their desire and toughness and resilience.” Coach Cromwell said at the awards banquet
Truly a memorable season for the UWM Panthers, and perhaps it’s only the beginning.