Women’s Tennis: Wildcats crowned Big Ten champions

Northwesterns womens tennis team won its 14th Big Ten championship in 15 years Sunday, knocking off Michigan 4-1.

Source: Northwestern Athletics

Northwestern’s women’s tennis team won its 14th Big Ten championship in 15 years Sunday, knocking off Michigan 4-1.

Mike Marut, Reporter

Northwestern on Sunday claimed its 14th Big Ten Tournament title in the last 15 seasons, avenging two conference losses in the process.

After being seeded third in the tournament, NU received a bye for the first round and played No. 6 Indiana on Friday. After dispatching the Hoosiers 4-0, the Wildcats beat No. 2 Nebraska 4-1 and top-seeded Michigan 4-1 to win the title.

“I felt good going into the match,” coach Claire Pollard said. “We had come off good matches Friday and Saturday. Each match had prepared us for the following one, so Nebraska had prepared us for our Michigan match.”

In the championship bout, NU and Michigan went back and forth, and neither team looked ready to relinquish the title. The matches were tightly contested throughout, and both schools had players fight back from the brink of elimination to keep the match alive. Five of the six singles matches went to a decisive third set.

“I looked at my watch three hours into the match, and even then I couldn’t tell who was going to win,” Pollard said.  “Neither team deserved to lose.”

NU captured a difficult doubles point, nearly blowing big leads at both No. 2 and No. 3 singles before holding on to win the first point of the match. In singles play, the Cats took the opening sets in four matches, but only junior Nida Hamilton was able to close out the match in straight sets.

Pollard said the turning point in the match was senior Linda Abu Mushrefova’s second-set victory over Brooke Bolender in the No. 4 singles match. After losing the first set, Abu Mushrefova scraped by in the second set with a 7-5 win and then took the third set 6-4 to finish off Bolender. This victory clinched the top spot for NU, the 15th consecutive year with a title.

When NU faced Indiana in the regular season, the Hoosiers were missing one of their key players, Carolyn Chupa, due to a concussion. Chupa made a difference against NU on Friday, winning her doubles match with Leslie Hureau and being tied at a set with junior Belinda Niu in singles play when the match was abandoned because NU won the duel. However, the addition was not enough, as the Cats swept the Hoosiers 4-0 in the quarterfinals.

“We made sure to not look past any match,” Pollard said. “(Chupa) definitely made a difference on Indiana’s team.”

After defeating Indiana, the Cats pounced on the Cornhuskers on Saturday.

NU took control of the doubles point with Abu Mushrefova and Hamilton toppling the third-ranked duo of Mary Weatherholt and Patricia Veresova 8-6. The upset was preceded by the team of junior Veronica Corning and freshman Alicia Barnett blitzing Nebraska’s Stefanie Weinstein and Janine Weinreich 8-2.

“The doubles teams played well,” Pollard said. “The doubles point was extremely important.”

Having captured the doubles point, NU needed to win three singles matches to avenge its first conference loss this season. Nebraska struck first with Weatherholt, ranked 11th in the nation, beating Corning 6-1, 6-1 in the No. 1 singles match. However, Abu Mushrefova, Barnett and Hamilton responded in full force by winning the final three singles matches consecutively to take the duel 4-1.

The match was moved inside due to rain, and Pollard feared the weather might play a role in the results. However, her fears were unfounded, and NU still took the victory.

“I thought moving inside would affect our play. Luckily it didn’t,” Pollard said.

Winning the Big Ten Tournament guarantees the Cats a spot in the NCAA Championships in May. NU enters the tournament with an 18-8 overall record and ranked No. 15 nationally.