Sophomore takes fight out of Irish in marathon

Nick Halpern

Earlier this season, Claire Pollard, the head coach of theNorthwestern women’s tennis team, bemoaned her team’s lack ofexperience in close matches.

All it took was five hours in South Bend, Ind., to change thatshortcoming.

The No. 11 Wildcats (16-4, 5-1 Big Ten) outlasted No. 24 NotreDame 4-3 to win their third straight match against the rivalFighting Irish (10-9).

“It was just a phenomenal match which neither team deserved tolose,” Pollard said. “I think that will really inspire us.”

Sophomore Jamie Peisel, no stranger to late-match heroics, wonthe deciding match to give the Cats the victory.

After trailing 4-1 in the third set to Lauren Connelly, Peiselwent on to win in a tiebreaker.

“I kept fighting,” Peisel said. “When I was down 4-1, I changedmy game and just found a way to win.”

It wasn’t Peisel’s first match-deciding victory over a top-30team. She also clinched the Cats’ victories over New Mexico andthen-No. 4 Washington.

The match got off to an inauspicious start for NU as Notre Dameswept the doubles point.

“I thought we really fought hard,” Pollard said. “After we gotswept in the doubles, I think the girls just decided they weren’tgoing to lose.”

Freshman Alexis Prousis, who has been one of the Cats’ mostconsistent players, was the quickest winner. After falling indoubles, Prousis was able to come back to dominate her singlesmatch against Catrina Thompson, winning 6-2, 6-1.

“Claire talked to us after the (doubles) match, and the teamjust focused harder on getting up and competing,” Prousis said. “Iwas really positive, and I was able to be a really goodplayer.”

No. 3 Cristelle Grier notched an easy victory for NU, defeatingNo. 11 Alicia Salas in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2. It was Grier’ssecond victory over Salas this season.

The Cats’ other ranked singles player, senior Jessica Rush, alsopicked up a straight-set victory, against Notre Dame’s ChristianThompson.

“I think that we’re definitely going to build from this,”Prousis said. “It was such a huge win for us because it was soclose and exciting at the end.”

The Cats play their last regular-season home matches thisweekend against unranked Penn State (6-12, 0-6) on Saturday and No.63 Ohio State (8-10, 3-3) on Sunday. Both matches will be at theVandy Christie Tennis Center.

The Buckeyes are one of two teams that have defeated the Cats inBig Ten in the past three years. They upset the Cats 4-3 lastseason.