NU Sweet 16-bound

Nick Halpern

NU Sweet 16-bound

By Nick Halpern

The Daily Northwestern

This season, the Northwestern women’s tennis team has won several tight matches. And every time, it seemed, sophomore Jamie Peisel captured the game-winning point for the Wildcats.

On Sunday NU played No. 29 Notre Dame for the right to advance to the Sweet 16, and Peisel again clinched the Cats victory, finishing off her Fighting Irish opponent with a 6-3, 7-5 win.

Peisel’s victory helped propel No. 9 NU past Notre Dame, 4-1.

“I thought they played an outstanding match,” NU coach Claire Pollard said of Notre Dame. “We were just fortunate when it mattered.”

The match was the second contest between the two teams this year. The first was a five-hour marathon on April 15 in South Bend, Ind., which Peisel also clinched in a third-set tiebreaker, giving NU a 4-3 win.

NU’s doubles teams looked to improve their play after losing the point against Notre Dame earlier this year.

After NU’s second doubles team fell to the Irish on Sunday, the top doubles team, Jessica Rush and Cristelle Grier, narrowly defeated twin freshmen Christian and Catrina Thompson, 9-7.

In a back-and-forth match, Andrea Yung and Ruth Barnes came out victorious in a tiebreaker, 9-8 (5).

“I think doubles were a key,” Notre Dame coach Jay Louderback said. “It was going to be tough for us to win four singles matches. I think Northwestern today just played a little better than we did in the big points.”

The Cats got two quick wins in singles from Grier and Alexis Prousis. Grier defeated Alicia Salas for the third time this season, 6-1, 6-1.

“I was really impressed by her,” Salas said. “I think today she played just as well or better than anyone I’ve played this year.”

Peisel delivered the clinching win, but unlike in many of her matches, she required only two sets to notch the win.

“It was very nice not to go three sets,” Peisel said. “I’ve done it a few times now. I’m getting used to it.”

It looked like Peisel was destined for three sets. She won the first set and was trailing 5-2 in the second, but she won the last five games to put away Lauren Connelly. The team’s victory was especially sweet for Peisel since she hails from Savannah, Ga., which is a less-than-five-hour drive from Athens.

NU advanced to Sunday’s match by defeating Illinois-Chicago 4-0 on Saturday. The Cats had little trouble with the Flames, who have been their first-round opponent three of the past four years.

“I was pleased to move on to the next round,” Pollard said. “I thought UIC played a great match. They came at us hard, especially in singles. The match was closer than the score indicated.”

Because NU was the top-ranked team in the Midwest region, the Cats hosted the NCAA regional. Pollard said playing at home, where the Cats are undefeated, was an advantage.

“We had an excellent crowd out here, just as we’ve had all year,” Pollard said. “I just think that when there’s moments of doubt when you play one great point, it helps emotionally to help lift you through the difficult times.”

The Cats now head to Athens, Ga., where the rest of the NCAA tournament will be held, to take on seventh-seeded Duke on Thursday.

“We’ve been targeting Athens since the end of the NCAAs last year,” Grier said.