May 17, 2012
NCAA Championship Central | NCAA Championship Bracket | NCAA Championship Program
Site: Athens, Ga. (Dan Magill Tennis Complex)
Score: No. 4 Stanford 4, No. 13 Northwestern 1
Records: NU (20-9, 10-1 Big Ten), Stanford (21-1, 9-1 Pac-12)
Next NU Event: Wednesday, May 23 -- NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships (Athens, Ga.)
ATHENS, Ga. -- Northwestern drew Stanford in the third round of the NCAA Championships for the second straight year and for the second time in a row it was the Cardinal that was moving on to the quarterfinals at the end of the day. 4th-seeded Stanford defeated 13th-seeded Northwestern at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga., 4-1.
The Wildcats trailed late in the match, 3-0, but in the face of defeat the purple-and-white-clad 'Cats kept fighting and extended the match several times before ultimately falling to the 16-time national champions from Stanford.
"We have the utmost respect for [Stanford], but they're still human" said Northwestern head coach Claire Pollard. "If you play hard and play well, you have to believe, otherwise it's a waste of everyone's time to come down here. I think our team did a good job believing. We played them last year in the round of 16 and hung in then, too. We're closing the gap."
Northwestern faced a tall task in doubles play with both Stanford's No. 1 and No. 2 pairs being ranked amongst the top 25 in the country. The top tandem for the Cardinal, Mallory Burdette and Nicole Gibbs (ranked No. 2) jumped on NU's Linda Abu Mushrefova and Veronica Corning early and built a quick 5-0 lead less than 20 minutes into the tussle.
The 'Cats were finally able to break Stanford's serve, but by that point they were already trailing 6-0. The Cardinal bounced right back and broke Northwestern then held serve to win the pro-set, 8-1.
Stanford's Stacey Tan and Ellen Tsay (No. 24) won four of the first five games in their set against Brittany Wowchuk and Nida Hamilton. The Wildcats had won eight of their first nine matches together since being paired by Pollard for the first time on April 7 at Michigan State.
Wowchuk and Hamilton rebounded to take the next two games, cutting the deficit to one. Wowchuk's serve was broken, however, and the Cardinal went back up by two. Northwestern would come no closer in the set. Tan and Tsay went on to win 8-5 to give their team the doubles point.
Through the duration of the season, NU's most consistent pair has been its third team of Kate Turvy and Belinda Niu; Thursday was no exception. The Wildcats, winners of 16 of 20 doubles matches together, took a 2-1 lead early on and did not look back. They led Veronica Li and Natalie Dillon, 6-5, when the match was abandoned because the team point had been won.
In last year's NCAA Championship third-round match between the two programs, Northwestern won the doubles point to surge ahead early, but then-top-seeded Stanford rallied to win four singles matches to survive. Thursday marked the 13th time this season that the Wildcats surrendered the doubles point. In five of those matches, NU rallied to win enough singles matches to secure a victory, including twice against top-10 teams in North Carolina and Virginia.
"We've struggled with that all year," said Pollard. "We've haven't won many doubles points and we've had to learn to fight and we've gotten pretty good at it. It's just so tough to win four singles matches against a team of this caliber."
As singles play began the 'Cats attempted to start anew. Abu Mushrefova notched an early break to grab a 2-0 lead, while Turvy bounced back after dropping the opening game to win the next two and take a 2-1 lead against Gibbs, the nation's third-ranked singles player.
On court six, Hamilton also responded after falling behind slightly to win two straight and grab a lead against Dillon, who was a late addition to the lineup following the scratch of Kristie Ahn.
Wowchuk's opening set in round three followed the same blueprint as her first set against Notre Dame's Britney Sanders in round two. The Toronto, native was blanked, 6-0. However against Sanders, Wowchuk rallied to win the next two sets to help the Wildcats earn their spot in Athens this week.
Corning also dropped her first singles set, 6-1, at No. 4, while sophomore Belinda Niu fell behind Burdette at No. 2, 6-2. Niu and Burdette are quite familiar with one another as they were the only repeated pairing from the showdown in Palo Alto, Calif. last May. This time around Burdette entered the match as the fifth-ranked singles player by the ITA.
Abu Mushrefova earned Northwestern's first set of the day with a 6-4 victory in the premier frame against Li. Meanwhile on court one, Turvy was outlasted in a vicious battle with Gibbs in the first stanza, 7-5. Hamilton lost her early 2-1 lead and lost to Dillon in the first set, 6-2.
Each match moved into its second set and the Wildcats continued to grind it out for every point. Wowchuk jumped out to a 4-1 lead, while Niu fought back from two down to tie the set at four games apiece. Hamilton also put an early 1-0 disadvantage behind her to claim four games in a row and grab the lead.
On court four, Tsay, ranked No. 74, finished off Corning, 6-1, 6-2, to give the Cardinal a 2-0 lead on the team scoreboard. Meanwhile, the 'Cats continued to claw their way back into the fight. At the time that Corning finished, Northwestern held leads on three other courts, while one was tied and the fifth, Turvy, was mounting a furious rally. Trailing 5-1, the Ohioan won two in a row to pull with two of Gibbs and keep her team's hope alive.
Turvy ultimately lost, 6-3, and Stanford took a three-point lead. Still, Northwestern refused to back down. Abu Mushrefova beat Li, 6-4, 6-3 to secure the first point of the day for the Wildcats and moments later Niu came up huge in a second-set tiebreaker to win 7-6 (4) and force a third set in her match with Burdette.
Wowchuk was in an absolute dogfight with Tan in their second set. After surrendering a 5-3 lead, Wowchuk kept thwarting Tan's efforts as best she could. The NU junior led 6-5, but she was unable to closeout the set and Tan forced a tiebreaker at 6-6. The Stanford player got off to a 3-0 lead, but Wowchuk still refused to relent. She later got to within a point at 6-5, but Tan finally put her away and clinched the 21st win of the season for the Cardinal.
At the time that the match finished, Hamilton led Dillon in the third set, 2-0, and Niu and Burdette had split the first two games of their final frame.
The Wildcats wrapped up the 2012 season with their 12th Big Ten regular season championship in the past 14 years and with 20 wins for the ninth straight season with Pollard at the helm.
"I'm proud of this team. It's been an up-and-down year because there's been a lot of adversity," said Pollard. "I'm proud of the way we finished the season and we return everyone who played today, so hopefully that's a good thing."
Three 'Cats will return to Athens next week for the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships. Turvy will be one of 64 players in the singles field, while Hamilton and Abu Mushrefova will team up as one of 32 entries in the doubles event. Both tournaments begin on Wednesday, May 23 at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
1. No. 2 Mallory Burdette/Nicole Gibbs (STAN) def. No. 85 Linda Abu Mushrefova/Veronica Corning (NU) - 8-1
2. No. 24 Stacey Tan/Ellen Tsay (STAN) def. Nida Hamilton/Brittany Wowchuk (NU) - 8-5
3. Belinda Niu/Kate Turvy (NU) vs. Natalie Dillion/Veronica Li (STAN) - 6-5 (unfinished)
Order of finish: 1, 2*
1. No. 3 Nicole Gibbs (STAN) def. No. 20 Kate Turvy (NU) - 7-5, 6-3
2. Belinda Niu (NU) vs. No. 5 Mallory Burdette (STAN) - 2-6, 7-6 (4), 1-1 (unfinished)
3. No. 25 Stacey Tan (STAN) def. No. 82 Brittany Wowchuk (NU) - 6-0, 7-6 (5)
4. No. 74 Ellen Tsay (STAN) def. Veronica Corning (NU) - 6-1, 6-2
5. Linda Abu Mushrefova (NU) def. Veronica Li (STAN) - 6-4, 6-3
6. Nida Hamilton (NU) vs. Natalie Dillon (STAN) - 2-6, 6-4, 2-0 (unfinished)
Order of finish: 4, 1, 5, 3*
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