April 30, 2005
EVANSTON, Ill. -
After dropping the doubles point for the first time all season against a conference opponent, a possible upset of top-seeded Northwestern briefly lingered in the chilly air Saturday at the Big Ten Championship, hosted by Michigan State. Emphasis on the word "briefly." The Wildcats quickly composed themselves and ran off four straight-set singles wins to beat the frisky Wisconsin Badgers, 4-1, and move into the tournament final for the seventh-straight year.
Head coach Claire Pollard and the Wildcats will gun for their seventh-consecutive conference tournament title tomorrow at 11 a.m. CT against the Michigan Wolverines, who won a dramatic semifinal matchup against Iowa, 4-3.
Valerie Vladea and Feriel Esseghir started the day much like Northwestern always did this year in doubles: with a win. NU came into the match holding a combined 32-0 doubles record against conference opponents, and Vladea and Esseghir contiued that trend by handily winning at the No. 3 position, 8-3. The duo is 8-0 on the year together.
But Wisconsin was not about to roll over as a doubles doormat for the `Cats to walk all over.
At No. 1, Lindsay McGaffigan and Caitlin Burke upset Audra Cohen and Cristelle Grier -- the nation's top-ranked tandem. The `Cats dug themselves out of a 5-2 hole by breaking the Badgers, followed by Grier serving a perfect game to cut the score to 5-4. McGaffigan and Burke simply would not relinquish the lead though, holding on to win 8-6.
The deciding match came to the No. 2 slot, where Alexis Prousis and Kristi Roemer had jumped ahead, 4-1. The duo dropped four-straight games though, falling behind, 5-4. Tied at 5-5 and again at 7-7, the Badgers powered ahead for the 9-7 victory.
This was unfamiliar territory. The Wildcats found themselves down 1-0 heading into the singles point against a Big Ten foe for the first time all season. With their backs squarely against the wall and the chance to repeat as Big Ten Champs for the seventh-straight year in jeopardy, they looked to Pollard during the intermission.
"I think you have to approach it like we have everything to gain," Pollard said after the match. "There's obviously a lot on the line here, but you can't play timid and like we have something to lose. We came out in singles like we had nothing to lose and that mentality can be the difference sometimes."
Cohen got Northwestern on the board by smashing McGaffigan at the top spot, 6-2, 6-0.
Prousis played fearlessly at the No. 3 position and got NU to a 2-1 lead with a dominating, 6-0, 6-2 win -- only her 16th in a row.
Senior Andrea Yung extended the `Cats to 3-1 with a 6-4, 6-2 win at No. 5. Yung has yet to lose this spring and improves to 21-4 overall.
Vladea then clinched the match with her 11th-straight victory at the No. 4 position.
"I had a really hard time with Caiti (Kaylan) in our first match this year and she was just as tough today," Vladea said of her 6-3, 7-5 victory over the Badger. "It feels great to have the opportunity to play for the Big Ten Championship tomorrow."
Northwestern 4, Wisconsin 1
No. 1 - McGaffigan/Burke (WIS) def. #1 Cohen/Grier (NU), 8-6
No. 2 - Caiati/Martin (WIS) def. #47 Prousis/Roemer
No. 3 - Vladea/Esseghir (NU) def. Beck/Nusslock (WIS), 8-3
Order of finish: 3, 1, 2
No. 1 - #5 Audra Cohen (NU) def. Katie McGaffigan (WIS) 6-2, 6-0
No. 2 - #19 Cristelle Grier (NU) vs. Caitlin Burke (WIS) 5-7, 5-1, (abandoned)
No. 3 - #64 Alexis Prousis (NU) def. Lindsay Martin (WIS) 6-0, 6-2
No. 4 - Valerie Vladea (NU) def. Kaylan Caiati (WIS) 6-3, 7-5
No. 5 - Andrea Yung (NU) def. Nicole Beck (WIS) 6-4, 6-2
No. 6 - Alexis Conill (NU) vs. Chelsea Nusslock (WIS) 2-6, 6-0, 2-3 (abandoned)
Order of finish: 1, 3, 5, 4