Serving up a league of their own

David Kalan

Women’s Tennis

Alexis Prousis has a penchant for screaming.

“Prousis was pretty loud today, ” Audra Cohen said. “She’s got a lot of life to her.”

This time No. 64 Prousis screamed not out of anger, but in celebration as she watched her drop shot sail past Michigan’s Kara Delicata. Prousis’ 6-1, 7-6 (7-5) victory, her 17th straight, clinched the seventh consecutive Big Ten championship for No. 5 Northwestern in East Lansing, Mich., on Sunday.

The Wildcats (24-2, 13-0 in the Big Ten) defeated the Wolverines 4-1 after No. 40 Michigan (14-11, 9-5), the seventh seed in the tournament, upset second-seeded Indiana and third-seeded Iowa in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.

“I’ve clinched some matches, but obviously I’ve never clinched something as big as this,” Prousis said. “Just having everybody watching you, knowing that if you win this match you’ve won the Big Ten … it was really exciting.”

Still, the Cats’ road to the championship was not as smooth as anticipated. After easily beating Penn State 4-0 on Friday, NU lost the doubles point to a Big Ten rival for the first time this season, as the Cats fell behind Wisconsin 1-0 in the semifinals.

Cohen and Cristelle Grier, the No. 1-ranked tandem in the country, and the No. 47 duo of Prousis and Kristi Roemer both fell to the Badgers before the Cats regrouped to take four singles matches and head to the finals.

The final against Michigan featured even closer matches in the doubles point, with no team having more than a two-game lead until the matches were won, and with all three ending nearly simultaneously.

Prousis and Roemer, as well as Valerie Vladea and Feriel Esseghir, both pulled off 8-5 victories. Vladea and Esseghir clinched the point moments after Michigan’s No. 21 Michelle DeCosta and Delicata had defeated Cohen and Grier. It was the top-ranked tandem’s second loss in as many days.

“I don’t think it’s a concern at all,” Grier said. “I don’t think Audra and I lost the matches. I think they stepped up and won it … it keeps us motivated to get back to where we were.”

In singles the Cats wrapped up the match as Vladea, No. 5 Cohen and Prousis all posted straight set victories. The lone loss came when Andrea Yung suffered her first defeat of the spring to Debra Streifler 6-4, 6-0. The remaining matches were abandoned after Prousis’ clincher.

For Vladea, the experience was a new one, having watched NU celebrate its 2003 Big Ten title after losing the final as a while she was at Minnesota. Vladea has become a dependable fixture in the Cats’ lineup, winning her 12th match in a row.

“I think that’s what we all hope, that everyone on this team can rely on each other,” Vladea said. “I rely on Alexis Conill just as much as I rely on Audra Cohen to win a match. It doesn’t really make a difference.”

Coach Claire Pollard now has won the Big Ten championship each year that she has coached in Evanston, but don’t expect her to tire of it any time soon.

“That (championship) T-shirt is just so much fun to put on,” Pollard said. “If this gets old then I don’t think I could be in this business any longer.”

The Cats now have two weeks to recuperate before the NCAA Regionals on May 13th. For now the Cats are celebrating putting more hardware on the university’s mantelpiece, but Pollard and the players all agree that the ultimate task of a national championship is yet to be completed.

“We certainly have a lot more left to our season,” Pollard said. “I think the fun is just beginning, personally.”

Reach David Kalan at [email protected]

Friday

Penn St 0

NU 4

Saturday

Wisc. 1

NU 4

Sunday

Mich. 1

NU 4