Top-ranked Wildcats lose on road

Jimmy Mitchell

For the first time in more than a year, the No. 1 ranked Northwestern women’s tennis team did the unthinkable.

Last weekend, the Wildcats lost a match in the regular season.

Up 3-1 and needing only one more singles point in order to wrap up Saturday’s duals match, NU (9-1) dropped three consecutive points to No. 6 Duke to lose 4-3 before the home crowd at the Combe Tennis Center on Saturday.

With not a single day off, the Cats went back to work on Sunday, defeating No. 12 North Carolina in 5 of 6 singles matches for the overall victory, 5-2.

“I was really pleased with the way we bounced back in singles,” coach Claire Pollard said of the team’s performance Sunday. “It was obviously such a disappointing loss yesterday. But if you had told me we’d be 9-1 at the end of February and win the National Indoor (Team Championship), I’d have taken that.”

NU’s loss to Duke was especially painful because of the lost opportunities that the Cats failed to take advantage of, senior Georgia Rose said. Needing just one win in the remaining three singles matches, NU had its top three players – Rose, sophomore Maria Mosolova and junior Samantha Murray – on the court.

After Murray lost in straight sets to the Blue Devils’ Reka Zsilinszka, 6-1, 6-2, both Mosolova and Rose played into the third sets of their matches before ultimately falling short.

Rose, who came back from a 6-0 loss in the first set with a tiebreaker victory in the second before losing in the third, said the team will not forget Saturday’s defeat.

“We took a tough loss yesterday, ” she said after Sunday’s win. “We’re pretty disappointed about that still. Obviously, on any other day I feel good when Maria and I are the last ones out there. It just didn’t go our way. We’ll just keep working.”

Saturday’s loss came two weeks after NU’s 4-3 victory over Duke in the second round of the ITC tournament. Knowing that the Blue Devils had extra motivation to win, the Cats are now looking forward to getting a chance to avenge the loss, Rose said.

“I definitely think that (Duke) is one of the top teams in the nation, definitely someone that we’re going to work really hard to prepare to beat them again,” she said. “There’s a good chance we’ll see them again in May (in the NCAA tournament).”

NU did not rebound immediately on Sunday, losing two out of three doubles matches to North Carolina. It was the first time in 2009 the Cats failed to capture the doubles point.

However, NU did respond in singles play, winning 5 of 6 matches, all in straight sets. The only blemish came at No. 2 singles, where Rose lost to North Carolina’s Katrina Tsang in a third-set tiebreaker, 10-7.

NU’s dominant performance against a ranked opponent demonstrated the maturity and the resiliency of the squad, Pollard said.

“Against a quality team, I think that’s really helpful,” she said. “I think it shows the character of the team, because I think a lot of teams lose that heartbreaking match, and it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself and let that momentum bring you into a downward spiral. I think (Sunday’s win) was really helpful.”

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