No. 8 Cats experience scare, hold on for win

Nick Halpern and Nick Halpern

This is why they play the matches.

The No. 52 New Mexico women’s tennis team was on the brink of pulling off a huge upset against No. 8 Northwestern on Saturday. The Lobos had taken the doubles point and two singles matches, but the Wildcats came back to tie things up with three singles-match victories.

So the meet came down to the No. 3 singles match — NU sophomore Jamie Peisel versus New Mexico senior Sandy Lukowski.

After winning a first-set tiebreaker, 10-8, Peisel eked out a 7-5 victory in the second set to seal the match and allow the Cats to breathe easy.

“I was really impressed with Jamie and her composure,” NU coach Claire Pollard said. “I think she really knew it was coming down to her at the end.”

The 4-3 win at the Combe Tennis Center moved NU to a perfect 3-0 on the season, while New Mexico fell to 1-1.

The Lobos started the afternoon strong, taking 2-of-3 doubles matches to win that point.

The nation’s No. 1 doubles team of sophomore Cristelle Grier and senior Jessica Rush edged the No. 21 squad of senior Sandy Lukowski and sophomore Maja Kovacek for the second time this season, 8-6. But the Cats’ No. 2 squad of senior Ruth Barnes and freshman Alexis Prousis, along with their third team of junior Andrea Yung and senior Connie Chiang both fell.

“We just sort of fell apart at two doubles,” Pollard said. “And we got completely outplayed at three, so more credit to them.”

For a while, the Cats’ prospects looked grim.

Barnes was trailing 1-4 in the first set of her singles match, but she regrouped and cruised, 6-4, 6-3, against Maria Ruiz-Fabrega.

“When I went 4-1 down I just thought I needed to relax,” Barnes said. “I wasn’t playing too good but I knew if I hung in there I could turn it around.”

Grier, ranked fourth nationally in singles, had little problem with No. 83 Iva Gersic, winning in straight sets. For the first few games, No. 36 Rush had trouble getting into a groove against No. 99 Kovacek, trailing 2-3. But she regrouped to win 6-3, 6-4.

Prousis lost her singles match, but luckily for NU, Peisel came away with her tough victory.

The Lobos gained the Cats’ respect.

“I give them a lot of credit, I thought New Mexico played a great match,” Pollard said. “They came out swinging, they had nothing to lose.”

Coming off a win against then-No. 8 William and Mary last weekend, and with the ITA Team Indoors upcoming, Pollard said her squad might have overlooked the Lobos.

“Even though I don’t think anyone was taking this for granted psychologically,” Pollard said, “I don’t know if our focus was as good as it could have been today.”