Women’s Tennis: Northwestern upsets two top-10 teams, falls to UCLA at ITAs

Mike Marut, Reporter

No. 16 Northwestern (4-2) returned to its winning ways over the weekend at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Team Indoor Championships in Charlottesville, Va.

The unseeded Wildcats took down both No. 8 seed Texas A&M (4-2) and No. 1 seed Florida (6-1) on Friday and Saturday. NU was the only unseeded team to make it past the first round, which pitted the nation’s top 16 teams against each other.

“We needed to look like the team that believed in ourselves more than other teams believed in themselves,” coach Claire Pollard said. “Even if that wasn’t the case against each team. … There were a lot of bright spots this weekend.”

Against the Aggies, the Cats went the distance and finally came out on top when senior Belinda Niu, NU’s only ranked singles player at No. 105, defeated Saska Gavrilovska in two sets at the No. 2 singles spot, 7-5, 6-2. Unranked senior Veronica Corning rallied to victory at the No. 1 singles spot against Cristina Stancu, ranked No. 14 in the nation, 4-6, 6-3, 10-7.

The Cats jumped out to an early lead, claiming the doubles point against the Aggies, and stood their ground, eventually winning 4-3.

When NU took on Florida, ranked No. 2 in the country, the freshmen took center-stage and helped lead the Cats to victory, 4-2. Freshmen Maddie Lipp and Jillian Rooney stepped up to defeat their top-40 opponents. Lipp overcame No. 39 Kourtney Keegan 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 and Rooney took down No. 27 Sofie Oyen 6-2, 6-1. Again, Niu put the finishing touches on the match defeating No. 23 Alexandra Cercone 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.

“It was the ultimate team effort,” Pollard said. “It was a perfect match from our doubles point through our singles.”

No. 4 seed UCLA finally stopped NU’s run of upsets by blanking the Cats 4-0. Ranked No. 5, the Bruins trumpet the nation’s top singles player and top doubles pair in the country. Corning, comfortable playing highly ranked players, made No. 1 Robin Anderson sweat, barely losing 7-6 (7-3), 6-4. Niu also made an impressive stand for the Cats in her unfinished match against No. 9 Chanelle Van Nguyen. As the team match ended, Niu was leading her opponent 8-4 in the tiebreaker.

“(The brightest spot this weekend) was playing all nine players, getting a contribution from everyone,” Pollard said. “It’s usually you only play six players so it was really good playing everyone.”

Despite losing in the semi-final round to UCLA, NU’s strong performance showed the team has bounced back from its loss to Vanderbilt a week ago. Having faced their toughest competition yet and coming out on top against two top-10 teams, the Cats are ready to rumble with the best this season.

“I was really pleased with the girls and for the girls,” Pollard said. “They rebounded really well after our loss to Vanderbilt. … This weekend, we proved to ourselves that we can play at the highest level of competition.”

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