The defending Big Ten Champions have gotten their season off to a good start. With 4-3 wins over 22nd-ranked UCF on Saturday and 17th-ranked Miami on Sunday, Northwestern women’s tennis (3-1) clinched one of fifteen at-large bids to the ITA National Indoor Championships in two weeks, doing so for the first time in five years.
Despite the loss of Erin Larner, Maddie Lipp, and Alex Chatt, each of whom played doubles as well, the Wildcats haven’t broken stride. After an easy 7-0 win against UIC and a 5-2 loss to Kansas in Lawrence, Northwestern returned to Evanston and swept through the ITA Kickoff Weekend Event.
Early on against UCF, though (and I mean early: the match began at 10 a.m.), things looked grim. Northwestern managed to come back from a decisive doubles loss by Clarissa Hand and Lee Or at No. 1 to take come-from-behind wins at both other doubles positions, with the teams of Julie Byrne and Hannah McColgan (No. 2) and Caroline Pozo and Rheeya Doshi (No. 3). But then NU dropped five out of six first sets in singles.
Doshi, a redshirt senior from Singapore, was in significant trouble at No. 5, down 1-6, 0-3 in the second set, before turning things on a dime. The senior got hot like she did multiple times down the stretch in 2018, taking 12 of the next 14 games en route to a 1-6, 6-4, 6-1 win. As Or pulled off an easy 6-3, 6-2 victory at No. 3, Byrne, a transfer junior from Ireland, was responding to a deficit of her own at No. 2.
The former Sooner had dug herself a similar hole: 2-6, 1-2 in the second. But Byrne took complete control, sweeping the next 11 games to win the match going away. All of a sudden, after UCF had opened a 3-2 lead with straight set wins at No. 1, No. 4, and No. 6, Northwestern stormed back for the 4-3 victory.
The Wildcats followed a similar template against Miami on Sunday afternoon. Capturing a similarly hard-fought doubles point win thanks to Doshi/Pozo winning 6-3 and Or/Hand joining them with a 6-4 set, the Wildcats clawed back from more singles trouble.
Despite handing Estela Perez-Sommariba, the seventh-ranked singles player in the country, her first home loss in 16 months during a pre-duals season tournament a couple of weeks ago, Hand lost in straight sets at No. 1. Doshi, Saturday’s magic gone, joined her, and Or collapsed after a first set win to mark another point in the loss column.
But Byrne, who has now won all six of her matches in the spring season, including two over ranked opponents, thrashed 82nd-ranked Daniella Roldan 6-3, 6-0. And this time, Pozo and Inci Ogut, at No. 6 and No. 4 respectively, were beneficiaries of the third set magic.
Ogut dropped a hard-fought second-set tiebreaker 9-7 after cruising in the first, but recovered to take the final set 6-1. Pozo, her fellow sophomore, responded to a 3-6 first set loss with wins of 6-3 and 6-4. And with her final winner, Northwestern had another well-earned win.
Northwestern next takes on No. 2 Vanderbilt in Nashville on Super Bowl Sunday. The next Friday, the Wildcats will head out to Seattle for the four-day, single-elimination Indoor Championships.