Women’s Tennis: Northwestern sets Notre Dame aside to advance to round of 16

Ava Wallace

Saturday’s NCAA Regional Championship contest between familiar foes No. 13 Northwestern and Notre Dame may have been one of the loudest matches the Combe Tennis Center has ever seen.

Fans filled the center’s bleachers and settled in for what would turn out to be a four-and-a-half-hour match as players brought drama and suspense to the court.

At the end of the day, the Wildcats (20-8) secured a spot in the NCAA Round of 16 for the 12th time in 13 years with a 4-2 victory over the Fighting Irish (21-8).

“Today was one of those days where neither team deserved to lose,” coach Claire Pollard said. “All credit goes to our kids for the way they gutted it out. It was just an incredible showing of great resilience and heart.”

This was NU and Notre Dame’s second meeting this year; the Cats defeated their longtime rivals in the regular season 4-3 on the road.

This time around it was junior Linda Abu Mushrefova who clinched the match for Northwestern with a thrilling three-set victory in the No. 5 singles spot, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5. The junior was one of three Cats to come back from a set down to win her match.

Both junior Brittany Wowchuk and sophomore Nida Hamilton made their comebacks after losing their first sets 6-0, feats that impressed Pollard.

“Nida and Britt found ways to win,” she said. “Brittany especially really dug in there. I thought her opponent was just playing too well, but she really found a way.”

Sophomore Veronica Corning was NU’s first singles victory with a breezy 6-1, 6-0 win at the No. 4 spot. She would then wait nearly two hours for three of her other teammates to win their matches and secure an NU victory.

“The waiting makes me anxious,” she said. “But you’re standing there with your team – it’s exciting.”

In doubles, the No. 85 pairing of Corning and Abu Mushrefova lost 8-4 at the No. 1 spot against Notre Dame’s No. 8 Kristy Frilling and Shannon Mathews. The 45-minute match was an efficient demonstration of Notre Dame’s formidable doubles point.

At both the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles match-ups, NU and Notre Dame traded games for over an hour. Only Wowchuk and Hamilton at the No. 2 spot were able to come away with a 9-7 victory to even up the doubles score.

Sophomore Belinda Niu and junior Kate Turvy then conceded an early 3-1 lead to lose 8-5 at the No. 3 position.

The Cats were disappointed but not surprised at the doubles loss; Notre Dame dominated in their doubles matches against NU earlier in the season as well.

“Notre Dame has traditionally had a good doubles point, it’s a team that has played together for four years,” Pollard said. “But it was a tough doubles point, an emotional point because we finally had the chance.”

With their victory, NU will travel to Athens, Ga., to face No. 4 Stanford in the round of 16 for the second year in a row . Last year the Cats lost 4-2 to the Cardinal in Palo Alto, Calif.

Abu Mushrefova said the team will work on tweaking little parts of their game throughout the week in preparation for Thursday’s match, but once again stressed confidence as a key to winning.

Pollard said this year’s team is more “up and down” than the group that played Stanford last year. Nevertheless, she looks forward to going all-out in Georgia.

“It’s a tall order, but it’s nice finally going into a match where we have nothing to lose and they have everything,” Pollard said. “That being said, we have got to have that belief that we can do this.”

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