Women’s Tennis: Wildcats suffer ‘gut-wrenching’ defeat in NCAA Tournament second round


Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Sophomore Alicia Barnett and freshman Jillian Rooney console each other after Northwestern’s heartbreaking loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats fell to Notre Dame 4-3, ending their season.

Mike Marut, Reporter

No. 28 Notre Dame ended No. 16 Northwestern’s season Saturday, edging over NU 4-3 in an NCAA Tournament second-round match coach Claire Pollard called “gut-wrenching.”

After winning the doubles point, the Wildcats (20-7, 10-1 Big Ten) won two more singles matches, while the Fighting Irish (18-9, 8-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) won three other singles matches to tie the match at three points apiece. The match came down to No. 6 singles, with senior Nida Hamilton facing off against Notre Dame sophomore Julie Vrabel. After being down in the final set five games to four, Hamilton fought her way back to force a tiebreaker at six games each.

“Nida played an amazing match at the end,” said senior Belinda Niu, who had won the Big Ten Tournament in similar fashion. “The number of match points she saved while she was scrambling during the point was just amazing. It’s just sad because I know how terrible she must feel now, but she’ll realize, when she’s reflecting back on the match, that she really did perform as well as she could. She fought to the bitter end. We’re all very proud of her.”

Hamilton fought off several match points from Vrabel and forced the tiebreak to go beyond the usual seven-point threshold but she ultimately fell 9-7.

“I really feel for her,” coach Claire Pollard said. “It’s tough to be the last one on and the loss is not really your fault. Her tenaciousness, heart and grit at the end really speaks volumes to her character. We were fortunate to get lucky a few times, but we just ran out of lives.”

Leading up to the breathtaking match, the Cats were denied any breaks, as the Fighting Irish were at their throats throughout the afternoon. At doubles, each court reached the tiebreak, so each played out all 15 games in the one-set contests. After a win for NU at No. 3 doubles, with Niu and freshman Brooke Rischbieth overcoming Notre Dame’s Mary Closs and Molly O’Koniewski 8-7, senior Veronica Corning and sophomore Alicia Barnett fell to Notre Dame 7-8 at the No. 1 doubles court. The pressure fell to Hamilton and her partner, freshman Maddie Lipp, to claim the doubles point once and for all.

“We were playing our game and doing our plays,” Pollard said. “We made a few mental mistakes like letting (their opponent) play balls down the line, but it was tight out there. We just did not do a good enough job capitalizing on leads, which would’ve made the match a little bit easier. We were struggling, struggling and hanging around, but I think it came down to we did not have enough experience against good opponents outdoors.”

Although NU was eliminated from team competition, the season is not yet over for several of the Cats’ top performers. The University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, is hosting the NCAA singles and doubles championships along with the team tournament. Niu and Corning, the Cats’ No. 1 and No. 2 singles players, were selected to compete in the singles championships while the duo of Corning and Barnett, who is a Daily staffer, was selected to compete in the doubles championships.

Niu led NU with a singles record of 29-6, while Corning racked up a record of 24-14. Corning and Barnett, the Cats’ No. 1 doubles tandem, have amassed a record of 23-12 overall.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @mikeonthemic93