Women’s Tennis: Wildcats handle Fighting Irish for another top-20 victory

Alex Putterman, Reporter

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In a battle of top-20 teams, No. 10 Northwestern (5-3) defeated No. 19 Notre Dame (5-3) 5-2 in Evanston on Sunday — the Wildcats’ third strong victory in eight days.

NU’s top doubles pair, No. 15 Linda Abu Mushrefova and Nida Hamilton, beat Notre Dame’s No. 30 Julie Sabacinski and Britney Sanders 8-6 in the first match to finish. But Notre Dame’s number-two pair topped the Cats’ Veronica Corning and Alicia Barnett, establishing the third slot as the decisive doubles match.

That match paired NU’s Belinda Niu and Kate Turvy against Notre Dame’s Quinn Gleason and Julie Vrabel. With the ever-important doubles point up for grabs, Niu and Turvy fell behind 7-4 but rallied to win five of the final six games, including the final tiebreaker, for a 9-8 victory that put the Cats ahead 1-0.

Last weekend, after the Cats won two of three at the ITA Indoor Team Championships, coach Claire Pollard expressed her happiness with the team’s doubles play, which again boosted NU on Sunday.

“In all three matches our doubles play looked really good,” she said last weekend. “I’m pleased with that. We’ve made a lot of progress in that area, which initially was somewhat of a concern for us, but I feel really good about that, very happy with our progress there.”

NU pulled in front 3-0 when Mushrefova won her singles match 6-3, 6-1 and junior Corning finished hers 6-4, 6-1. Still, with all four remaining matches close, the Cats looked to be in for a long night. In fact, with Notre Dame up a set in three of those matches, NU freshman Alicia Barnett’s second set appeared to be a crucial one.

Barnett had won the first set 7-5 and was tied 4-4 in the second before she won two straight games, breaking opponent Sabacinski’s serve, to capture the match and clinch overall victory for the Cats.

Barnett’s triumph proved clutch, as Turvy fell 7-5, 6-4 and senior Brittany Wowchuk dropped her match 6-3, 7-6 in matches irrelevant to the afternoon’s outcome. Red-hot junior Belinda Niu, who entered the national rankings this week at No. 83 after a strong showing last weekend, won her second set 6-4 and, as the last match on the court, captured the super-tiebreaker 10-2 to close NU’s 5-2 win.

The win was the Cats’ fifth straight against the Fighting Irish dating back to 2011 and their eighth win in their last nine tries against Notre Dame. NU defeated Notre Dame in the second round of NCAA Championships in both 2011 and 2012.

The Cats are now 29-11 all-time against the Fighting Irish, those 29 victories by far the most ever for NU against a non-Big Ten opponent. The Cats have beaten Harvard and Brigham Young 11 times each and Kentucky, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan 10 times each.

The Cats have won three of four, with all four victories coming over top-2o opponents and their only loss to then-No. 3 Duke.

Next for the Cats is No. 16 Texas on Friday, Feb. 22 in Evanston.