Women’s Tennis: Wildcats defeat two top teams but fall in ITA Championship quarterfinals


Daily file photo by Susan Du

Junior Belinda Niu plays a shot during a match last season. The Wildcats won two out of three matches last weekend in Charlottsville, Va.

Alex Putterman, Reporter

Northwestern failed to win its tournament this weekend, but two victories over top 10 teams make a pretty nice consolation prize.

The No. 14 Wildcats (4-3) lost in the quarterfinals of the 26th annual ITA Team Indoor Championship in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday, falling to No. 3 Duke (6-1) for the second time in a week. But the loss to the Blue Devils was sandwiched by wins over No. 9 Alabama (6-1) and No. 10 Miami (6-2), the highest-ranked opponents NU has toppled this year.

“We competed very well this weekend in all of our matches,” coach Claire Pollard said. “We didn’t necessarily play as well as we’d like. To beat a team of the caliber of Duke — really at that level it’s difficult — you’ve got to be able to compete hard and play well. So we’ll go back to the drawing board this week and figure out what we can do to play a little better.”

The Cats reached the quarterfinals by rolling by the Crimson Tide 4-1 on Friday. Junior Belinda Niu’s easy 6-4, 6-2 upset of No. 59 Maya Jansen in the third slot highlighted NU’s victory, and seniors Brittany Wowchuk and Linda Abu Mushrefova also won points for the Cats.

Only six days after losing 4-0 to Duke, the Cats were again matched against the Blue Devils, who had beaten No. 15 Baylor to advance to the quarterfinals.  In the rematch, NU lost big again, this time falling 4-1, but two close doubles matches and Niu’s 6-3, 6-0 defeat of Annie Mulholland provided bright spots.

“I thought we competed really hard,” Pollard said. “We’d lost to them convincingly. Turning that match around in five days was going to be a really tall order … We won a match and we were a lot more competitive at every spot, so I’m pretty pleased with that.”

To close their stay in Charlottesville, the Cats faced Miami in a consolation match that would prove to be the weekend’s most exciting for NU. The Cats cruised in doubles, then won their first two singles matches. Senior and No. 67 Kate Turvy won 6-4, 6-2, and junior Veronica Corning upset No. 57 Lina Lileitke 6-3, 6-4.

After two Miami victories tightened the score, NU’s hottest player finished off the Hurricanes. For the third straight day Niu won a match in which she was not favored, this time downing No. 51 Kelsey Laurente 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-5) to seal victory for her team.

“She really does a great job on game day,” Pollard said of Niu. “She is a tenacious competitor. She has a great serve, and the thing about our lineup, we really thought our depth would be one of our keys. One of the things we have going for us is there isn’t a big difference between our one and, really, our eight. Belinda could be playing higher, and she gives us a great chance every time.”

Duke eventually lost to No. 8 North Carolina, the tournament’s sixth seed. On Monday, the Tar Heels upset defending champion and top-seeded No. 2 UCLA to win the tournament.

Though the Cats failed to advance past the quarterfinals, Pollard was adamant that the weekend was largely a success, and her players echoed the sentiment of cautious enthusiasm.

“Our goal as our team was to make the semifinals,” Turvy said. “But we all feel pretty happy about how we did. Of course we want to go in and win the tournament, but you have to take it one match at a time, and we did what we could in every match and came up short against Duke but still did really well.”