Women’s Tennis: Wildcats dethroned as Big Ten Tournament champs

Rebecca Friedman

This weekend Northwestern felt something it hadn’t experienced since 1998 – a loss in the Big Ten Tournament.

The top seed and 13-time defending champion Wildcats were upset by the No. 5 seed Purdue 4-2 in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Saturday.

“Their ranking was deceiving,” coach Claire Pollard said. “The league is much better than in the past.”

The Boilermakers, whom the Cats bested 5-2 earlier in the season, got off to a solid start after an early 5-0 lead in the No. 1 doubles match. The No. 1 pairing of sophomore Veronica Corning and junior Linda Abu Mushrefova were unable to dig themselves out of the 5-0 hole despite coming back by winning three consecutives games, falling 8-3. Sophomore Nida Hamilton and junior Brittany Wowchuk put up a good fight in their No. 2 doubles match but fell 9-7 in their first loss in eight doubles matches together. The loss clinched the doubles point for Purdue.

Kate Turvy, whose No. 3 doubles match went unfinished tied at six games apiece, noted that the last time the Cats faced the Boilermakers, the doubles point took a lot of effort for NU to win.

“The doubles point didn’t come easy,” the junior said. “Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. Our doubles was still much improved from a month ago.”

The team’s singles play, which was a highlight in its first round victory over Ohio State, came up just short.

“We went in knowing we had a chance to win,” Turvy said. “They kept leads better and upped their game.”

Hamilton was the first to fall for the Cats, losing 6-1, 6-2 in her No. 6 singles match. Abu Mushrefova got the first point for NU with a 6-4, 6-3 victory at No. 5 singles. Wowchuk was the next singles player defeated, with her 6-3, 6-3 loss putting Purdue one point away from the match. Corning pushed back for the Cats, winning her No. 4 singles match in a tiebreaker to cut the deficit to 3-2.

Despite a valiant effort, Turvy fell 6-3, 7-5 in her No. 1 singles match to give the Boilermakers their fourth point of the day and the victory.

The Cats acknowledged the improvement of their Big Ten opponents and the new strength of these foes, but said the better competition will help them on the national stage.

“The Big Ten got a lot tougher,” Abu Mushrefova said. “However, it will just help us prepare for the NCAAs. It just shows how tough all teams are now. There are no easy matches.”

Pollard said the the Cats’ previous matchup against the Boilermakers was such a battle that the result of the Big Ten semifinal was always in doubt.

“Purdue could take confidence from the last match,” Pollard said. “It’s tough to beat a good team twice. At the end of the day we just came up short.”

NU swept Ohio State 4-0 on Friday in the quarterfinals. Sophomore Belinda Niu and Turvy won their doubles match with ease, 8-1, and Hamilton and Wowchuk grinded out an 8-5 win to earn the Cats the first point. Hamilton, Abu Mushrefova and Niu all won their singles matches to seal the victory for NU while the other three players left matches unfinished.

Overall the team realizes how hard the rest of the conference has worked to reach the level at which the Cats have been playing for the past decade.

“It’s difficult to keep sustaining the level of success that we’ve had while everyone keeps improving,” Pollard said.

The team also acknowledged the season was successful despite its early exit from the conference tournament.

“We’re still proud of our Big Ten regular season title,” Pollard said. “We’ve had to work and battle for everything this season after years of us dominating and walking through the Big Ten.”

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