May 29, 2006
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- They entered the NCAA doubles championship unseeded and underrated, but walked off with a national title. With the NCAA crown on the line Monday, Northwestern's All-American doubles tandem of senior Cristelle Grier (Epsom, England/Putney) and junior Alexis Prousis (Lake Forest, Ill./Lake Forest) defeated Fresno State's seventh-ranked doubles team of Katharina Winterhalter and Lucia Sainz 6-4, 6-1 to claim the national doubles championship.
"I'm so happy for them (Grier and Prousis)," head coach Claire Pollard said. "You coach for the players and I'm proud of the way they stepped up in a great moment and played great tennis. I'm excited for Northwestern and the program and I want to thank our administration for their support, because I don't think we would be where we are right now if not for their support."
Northwestern entered the match brimming with excitement with an opportunity to wear the national title crown. The 'Cats forced the action on Fresno State all match long, making the Bulldogs play defensively and react to what NU wanted to do.
"We spent an evening watching them in the semis, so we saw what they wanted to do," Pollard said. "But the key was our ability to serve big on huge points and our ability to lob -- that was difference in match."
In the match's first game, NU broke the Fresno State pair to take a 1-0 lead. While it was only the first game of the match, the point proved to be crucial as each team held serve for the remainder of the first set.
The two teams went back and forth with neither team willing to give an inch. With NU leading 4-3, the Wildcats fell behind 40-15 in the eighth game and Fresno State looked to break the 'Cats for the first time in the match.
The Wildcats stayed focused, however, and Prousis hit a lob to tie the score at 40-40 before Grier nailed a lob of her own to give NU the advantage. NU took the game on the next point and went up 5-3.
The Bulldogs won the next game to cut Northwestern's lead to 5-4, but the Wildcats held serve in the 10th game, with Fresno State committing an unforced error to give the Wildcats the first set.
The 'Cats started the second set just as they had in the first and broke the Bulldogs to take a 1-0 lead. After holding serve in the second, the Bulldogs cut Northwestern's lead in half by taking the third game.
With the second set at 2-1, the 'Cats buckled down and -- as they did against No. 1 Stanford in Sunday's semifinal match -- rattled off wins in four-straight games to seal the national championship.
In the fourth game, Prousis hit yet another stellar lob to force the game to a deuce before she hit two-consecutive aces to seal the fourth game for the Wildcats.
In a pivotal fifth game, Northwestern broke the Fresno State team for only the third time in the match, highlighted by a Prousis cross-court forehand winner.
Although Northwestern led 4-1, the Bulldogs had some bite left.
They battled NU to a 40-40 score in the sixth game, and fought to force deuce on two Wildcat advantages. Northwestern fought off two Bulldog advantages as well and finally got Fresno State to hit into an unforced error to win the sixth game.
The 'Cats could taste victory entering the seventh game of the second set and they sprinted out to a 40-15 lead. With the national title on their racquets, the NU duo got Fresno State to hit a ball long, earning the Wildcats the national championship.
"I can't describe it, I need someone to pinch me," Prousis said following the match. "It's just awesome, such a great feeling. You work hard to get to the match and once we got match point we could feel it. Once we won, it was great experience. We're just so happy."
The national title is the second in the history of the Northwestern women's tennis program, as Katrina Adams and Diane Donnelley took home the 1987 doubles title.
For Grier, one the nation's most heralded and highly regarded women's tennis players, this is the perfect way to end her illustrious career. After earning a plethora of conference, regional and national awards during her four years at NU, a national championship was the one thing that evaded her. But in her very last match as a collegiate tennis player, Grier has earned the title of a national champion as well.
Grier's postmatch comments echoed how important the title is.
"I'm really happy, it's such an unbelievable feeling," Grier said. "You get four chances and I'm lucky Prousis and I made it in my very last chance. It's just fantastic, it's a great feeling, I'm speechless."
For Prousis, her first national championship comes on the heels of her first All-America selection and second-straight All-Big Ten honor. After battling through injury for part of the season and a disappointing loss in the first round of the NCAA singles championship, the title is the perfect way to rectify her season.
"I was really upset about singles, but I knew that with doubles that I had to go out and play well because I wasn't in it for myself," Prousis said. "I knew I just had to forget about singles and went out and built on first match and got better and better."
The Wildcats did just that. After falling way behind in their first-round match versus No. 16 Arizona State, the Wildcats stormed back and beat the Sun Devils in three sets.
Despite going up against higher-ranked opponents, NU made it a rule of thumb to just focus on the upcoming match and never waver from their game plan.
"We were taking one match at a time," Grier said. "Our first match was so windy and we were down; we really could've lost, and they always say the first match is the most difficult, but we weren't looking any further."
Northwestern then beat No. 8 California, No. 10 Georgia Tech and No. 1 Stanford to reach Monday's championship match.
"After the first match we got better and better," Prousis said. "I didn't think about ranking at all, not one bit. We didn't even care, we were just so excited."
For Northwestern, the national championship is the crowning achievement on an already outstanding season. As team, the 'Cats advanced to the NCAA Championships quarterfinals for the first time during Pollard's tenure and finished the season with a No. 8 national ranking.
Grier earned Big Ten and ITA Midwest Region Player of the year honors, while Georgia Rose (Mettawa, Ill./North Shore Country Day) was named Big Ten and ITA Midwest Freshman of the Year.
In addition, NU tied a program record by sending three singles players and a doubles team to the NCAA Women's Tennis Championships.
"I'm certainly happy, we've really put a lot of work in," Pollard said. "You try and tell the players if they do the work, they'll do the right thing. Without Dave (assistant coach David Mullins), I don't think we win this national championship. It was a team effort, but in the end, Grier and Prousis hit the balls and all the credit goes to them."
Grier and Prousis end the season riding a 15-match winning streak, giving them an overall record of 39-12.