Fab freshman wins championship

Rajiv Bhuta

Freshman Audra Cohen served up an Northwestern first: a national tennis singles championship.

The unseeded freshman upset teammate and No. 1 seed Cristelle Grier, 7-6 (2), 6-2, in the finals of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-American Singles Championship, becoming the first freshman to capture the title since Duke’s Ansley Cargill in 2000.

“It was shocking,” said Cohen, who improved to 15-0. “And for me, as a freshman, it was such a long road and to finally get all the way to the end and be like, ‘I won,’ was just amazing.”

Cohen’s match against Grier at the Riviera Tennis Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., was only the fourth time in tournament history that two players from the same school have vied against each other for the title. It was also the second time in recent weeks Cohen and Grier had played each other in tournament competition. Last month, Cohen defeated Grier at the Rice Invitational, which only added to mix of factors influencing Sunday’s matchup.

“I hadn’t played the day before because my opponent dropped out, so that was kind of bad,” Grier said. “And of course, you try to approach a match differently, especially if you’ve been defeated, but she was just too good that day.

“Of course, I was personally disappointed, but I’m so pleased the trophy went to NU. Audra deserved it. It was a terrific feat.”

Eight days earlier Cohen began her quest for the championship title. She claimed four straight victories in the prequalifying tournament and grabbed three more in the qualifying tournament, just to compete in the main draw.

The Plantation, Fla., native tore her way through a marathon of 12 matches in nine days, losing only one set, to become the first player ever in ITA history to reach the singles final from the prequalifying tournament.

“With each day, I was just like ‘wow’,” NU coach Claire Pollard said. “I just kept getting more and more impressed.

“I did think she was slightly handicapped having to start at the prequalifying tournament, so it’s all the more credit to her that she got it done.”

While Cohen was dominating the competition on the West Coast, her teammates were doing the same at home in NU’s Wildcat Invitational.

During the three-day tournament, NU players competed against Wisconsin, DePaul, Illinois-Chicago, Western Michigan, Iowa State and Louisville, showcasing the determination and drive they hope will earn them a seventh consecutive Big Ten championship.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that we’re good with two players in the ITA Championships,” Pollard said. “But we’re in a building process right now. We’re not worried about results.”

Junior Feriel Esseghir and freshman Alexis Conill took top honors at the Wildcat Invitational, winning matches in both doubles and singles competition.

Esseghir and partner senior Andrea Yung defeated Western Michigan’s Carrie Jeanmaire and Pryanka Parekh, 8-4, while Conill and senior Kristi Roemer defeated DePaul’s Brenda Leung and Bojana Murisic, 8-5.

Now the Cats are looking ahead to the ITA regional qualifier, set to begin Oct. 20 in Minneapolis.

Reach Rajiv Bhuta at [email protected]