Women’s Tennis: Wildcats fight to the end, edged out in second round of NCAA Tournament by UNC

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Daily file photo by Keshia Johnson

Alex Chatt lunges forward to return the ball. The sophomore won her singles match against North Carolina, but couldn’t carry the team to victory.

Robbie Markus, Reporter


Women’s Tennis


Sophomore Alex Chatt said the Wildcats put everything they had out on the court. But ultimately that wasn’t enough as Northwestern came up short in its NCAA match against North Carolina on Saturday.

After defeating Ole Miss in a triumphant 4-0 win Friday, NU went up against No. 3 UNC (31-2, 14-0), a top-tier program that lost the national championship match to UCLA just two years ago.

“This was one of the best matches we’ve played all season, and unfortunately it just had to be the last match of the season,” Chatt said. “It will motivate us for summer and next year.”

NU started the weekend against an Ole Miss team it hadn’t faced since 2000, giving the Cats an unknown opponent in the first round. However, NU played a clean match, putting wins on the board quickly.

The Cats kicked off tournament play with efficient wins at No. 1 and 2 doubles. The pairs of Chatt and sophomore Maddie Lipp and that of senior Alicia Barnett and junior Brooke Rischbieth grabbed matches to get the ball rolling, giving NU a 1-0 lead.

The doubles momentum easily transitioned into singles. NU snatched the first set in 5-of-6 singles matches. Chatt dominated her match 6-4, 6-1 to give the Cats a 2-0 lead.

Both Barnett and Rischbieth fought tight matches in the first set, as they both won 7-6. However, both came out stronger in the second set, winning 6-4 and 6-3, respectively. Rischbieth clinched the 4-0 victory at No. 6 singles, setting NU up for a matchup with the Tar Heels.

Against UNC, doubles was a struggle. Coach Claire Pollard said she was a little bit shocked by how strong UNC’s doubles play was, as all three doubles courts fell behind 3-0 to start the match.

The tide did not turn, and UNC ended up grabbing No. 1 doubles 6-3, and No. 2 doubles 6-0, to give the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead. However, the Cats came back fighting in singles.

“In doubles, we were just completely outplayed,” Pollard said. “I was concerned that the match was going to be really quick, but I was really proud with the way we responded and got off to a really good start in singles.”

The Cats came out on a quest for survival when singles started, taking 3-of-6 first sets in singles matches. Chatt demolished her opponent 6-2, 6-0 to tie the score at 1-1. UNC responded with a counter-punch as junior Jillian Rooney went down 6-2, 6-2 at No. 5 singles.

Sophomore Erin Larner played the No. 1 singles player in the country in Hayley Carter, and despite a competitive fight, Larner went down 7-5, 6-4 to give UNC a 3-1 lead. Every match after Larner’s went three sets, as the Wildcats and Tar Heels duked it out to stay alive.

Lipp kept NU’s dreams alive, winning 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 to push the score back to 3-2. After winning the second set, Rischbieth found herself in the third set with a chance to tie the score at 3-all. Ultimately, No. 6 singles player Ashley Dai found her calling and defeated Rischbieth 7-6, 3-6, 6-0, eliminating the Cats from the NCAA Tournament.

Despite the loss, NU players said they were proud of their performance, as they had pushed a top-tier program to the near brink of elimination.

“Competing with a team of that caliber, and being that close, showed that we can compete with the top teams in the country,” Larner said.

The Cats struggled against elite programs all year with their only win against a top-10 school coming against No. 10 Michigan at home.

As the team looks forward to next season, the Cats are young and experienced. Their top two players, Larner and Lipp, will be juniors next year and already have significant experience against elite programs.

“We return five or six starters. Maddie and Erin, what they’ve done at one and two, I think it’s exciting,” Pollard said.

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