Cats eke past No. 4 Huskies

Nick Halpern

The Wildcats knew Saturday was their last chance to shine against a top-10 team.

The Northwestern women’s tennis team didn’t pass up the opportunity.

In one of the biggest wins in the program’s history, No. 10 NU defeated No. 4 Washington, 4-3. The victory avenged a loss the Cats suffered at the hands of the Huskies last season and stopped a two-match losing streak.

“It’s the best win we’ve ever had at Northwestern since I’ve been here,” sixth-year coach Claire Pollard said. “I don’t know if we’ve beaten anyone in the top five before. Washington is a great team and we’re very excited.”

The match hinged on the fourth singles competition as sophomore Jamie Peisel easily won the first set against sophomore Dinka Hadzic and went to a tiebreaker in the second. Peisel took the tiebreaker in a back-and-forth affair.

“Who couldn’t get fired up for the No. 4 team we lost to 4-3 last year?” Peisel said. “I had been struggling the past few matches because of different reasons, but it brings a lot of confidence to fight hard for the match and clinch it for the team.”

The Cats drew first blood with a sweep in the doubles point. The third-ranked tandem of sophomore Cristelle Grier and senior Jessica Rush clinched the point for NU, defeating the No. 19 duo of senior Claire Carter and junior Dea Sumantri.

Senior Connie Chiang was the quickest winner in singles, despite playing in her first solo effort of the dual-match season. Chiang put down freshman Monika Kolbovic, 6-1, 6-2.

“I think I did a good job of staying with my own gameplan and not giving her any free points,” Chiang said. “It really worked out well making her hit one more ball and so I was able to get the momentum right away. It was important that I got on top of her early.”

In pulling out the first match against one of the nation’s top programs, Chiang not only gave the Cats a 2-0 lead but reminded Pollard why she became a coach.

“I do want to say how proud I am of Connie,” Pollard said. “To be someone who is not on scholarship, and to stick with it for four years, and to get her opportunity — and to be the first one off the court is everything coaching is about.”

Grier, No. 3 in the nation in singles, dispatched No. 25 Carter in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4. This victory put NU up 3-1, one singles win away from victory.

Peisel provided the clinching win and was mobbed by her teammates after the final point.

Rush and senior Ruth Barnes were still on the court even with the match’s result no longer in question. Rush, taking on No. 23 Sumantri at second singles, struggled in the first set, falling 6-3. But she came back after trailing 5-3 in the second set to win 7-5. This forced a 10-point tiebreaker to determine the match, but she fell short 10-7.

Barnes won the first set, but couldn’t hold on and fell in three frames, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

After losing to No. 10 Duke and No. 9 North Carolina last weekend, Pollard said she wanted her players to hang close in each match.

“(After last weekend) we were anxious to prove that we were a better team than the one that showed up last weekend,” Pollard said. “One of the things I was harping on all week was that we have to have a chance at every spot.”

The win over the Huskies will be the Cats’ last match against a ranked team until they begin the Big Ten schedule Friday.

Peisel said she is ready to take on the conference.

“We’re all ready to beat up on the Big Ten teams.”