Wildcats Advance to Elite 8 (women’s tennis)

Diane Yamazaki

For the first time under coach Claire Pollard, the Northwestern women’s tennis team advanced beyond the round of 16 in the NCAA Championship after beating sixth-seeded Georgia Tech 4-0.

“We worked so hard this year,” freshman and No. 1 singles player Georgia Rose said. “I really feel as if it’s paying off right now, and I think it really paid off today.”

The 11th-seeded Wildcats not only topped the Yellow Jackets in Thursday’s match in Palo Alto, Calif., but swept them 4-0, taking two of the doubles matches for the doubles point and the first three singles matches at No. 2, 3 and 4.

The No. 13 doubles team of senior Cristelle Grier and junior Alexis Prousis were the first to win, beating Georgia Tech’s No. 10 doubles team of Kristi Miller and Lindsay Shosho 8-4.

“Prousis and I started off to a 6-0 lead,” Grier said. “But we knew that they were going to be out for some revenge after beating them in the regular season. We knew from their ranking they’d be tough, but at the same time we had confidence and we knew how they played.”

After freshman Nazlie Ghazal and senior Jamie Peisel lost 8-2 at No. 3, the doubles point rested on the No. 2 court where Rose and senior Feiriel Esseghir battled back from a 3-1 deficit.

“I felt we got off to a slow start,” Rose said. “We won the match against them in the regular season, but we still knew it was going to be a really tough match. We knew we couldn’t take any of it for granted.”

The pair soon tied the match at three games and quickly advanced passed the Yellow Jackets’ No. 2 tandem, winning 8-4 and clinching the doubles point for NU.

“If we lost the doubles point, I think we would’ve been out there for another hour trying to find that other point,” Grier said. “We knew in singles they weren’t a team that was going to die away easily, but Prousis had a great comeback and Georgia was racing away with the third, so I knew we were really in it.”

No. 13 Grier was the first to increase the Cats’ lead to 2-0 with a 6-4, 6-3 win at No. 2 singles, and No. 35 Prousis came back from a 5-1 deficit to beat Alison Silverio 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.

But it was Peisel’s 6-3, 7-5 victory over Tarryn Rudman at No. 4 singles that clinched the sweep for the Cats, sending NU to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1987.

“You never want to just go ahead and say this is in the bag,” Grier said. “Tennis is too much of an unpredictable sport to say that, but when Jamie fought her way to 6-5 and Georgia got into 2-0 in the third, we were really getting excited.”

With the Sweet 16 behind them, the Cats face No. 3 seeded-Southern California at 5 p.m. today.

The Trojans topped No. 16-seed Virginia Commonwealth 4-1 on Thursday for a spot in the quarterfinals.

“They’ve got an amazing team,” Grier said. “They’re seeded three, and I think for good reason. Whenever we’ve played them in the past, we’ve always had an incredibly close match. They are in the same kind of situation as we are with three No. 1 players in the lineup, so it’ll be interesting to see who’s matching up with whom.”

Grier said Pollard was thrilled for the team to make it beyond the round of 16 but feels there is no reason why the Cats shouldn’t have confidence to take them to the Final Four.

“One of our main aims was to make it to the Sweet 16 and win that round,” Grier said. “We’ve gotten to this stage so many times in the past and not quite jumped the hurdle, but now that we’re here, why stop? We’ll really savor the moment but we will still go out fighting tomorrow.”

Reach Diane Yamazaki at [email protected]