June 4, 2008
Photo Gallery: NCAA Championships in Review
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern closed out its best season in program history after reaching the quarterfinal round of the NCAA championships in May. The Wildcats, who reached the quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons, matched their best NCAA finish in school history.
Northwestern received its first No. 1 ranking in program history this season, holding the top position from February 26 through the NCAA Championships. The Wildcats became just the seventh different team in the past 20 years to be ranked No. 1 and the first Northern school ever to achieve the top spot. Northwestern finished second in the ITA's final season rankings on May 23, less than one point behind the 2008 NCAA champions, UCLA.
The 'Cats finished the season with a program-best 29-2 overall record, breaking several records en route to a storybook season. Northwestern broke every all-time team record this season, amassing more wins (29), shutouts (15), consecutive match victories (23) and a better team winning percentage (.935) than any other team in program history. The regular dual season was highlighted by the Wildcats' fourth-consecutive 10-0 finish and their record-breaking 10th-consecutive Big Ten title.
Head coach Claire Pollard completed her 10th season at the helm of Northwestern women's tennis, and was honored for her season efforts when she received her first Wilson/ITA National Coach of the Year award and garnered her fourth regional honor. In April, Pollard picked up her 300th-career victory with a 6-1 victory over Indiana. She remains the winningest coach in program history and has recorded an unprecedented 129-6 conference record, including a 35-0 mark in postseason play. Pollard, the 2008 Big Ten Coach of the Year, has won 64-consecutive conference matches dating to 2004 and has won the Big Ten tournament title in each of her 10 seasons as head coach.
Assistant coach David Mullins
also was recognized for his efforts this year as the recipient of the ITA National Assistant Coach of the Year award for the first time in his three years at Northwestern. By winning the regional award in 2007, Mullins was ineligible to repeat in the Midwest region this year. However, his performance and dedication clearly went noticed nation-wide as he garnered the national honor as an at-large selection. Mullins boasts a 77-12 record during his three seasons at Northwestern.
Senior Alexis Conill (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Cardinal Gibbons) will serve as the lone 'Cat to set sail from the program upon graduation this spring. Conill, who made a name for herself as the team's doubles specialist, went 35-6 overall in doubles this season with six different partners. As part of the Wildcat squad, Conill closes out her career an unbelievable 40-0 in regular season competition against Big Ten opponents. She will graduate from Northwestern in June with a degree in economics.
Not only did the Wildcats win for the majority of the season, they dominated their opponents in nearly every matchup. In singles play, the 'Cats went 226-58 overall for a .796 winning percentage this year. They also recorded a 135-24 dual record, including 56-4 in conference action.
Freshman Maria Mosolova (Moscow, Russia/No. 204) entered the Wildcat family last fall and made her impact immediately felt, primarily taking over the No. 1 singles position. Ranked in the top five nationally for the entire dual season, Mosolova closed out the year with a team-best record of 41-6 overall and 19-3 in dual play.
As the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA singles championship this year, she suffered an unfortunate demise in the quarterfinal round against the 2005 champion, Baylor's Zuzana Zemenova, who reached the finals for the second time in four years. The freshman phenomenon was honored for her success this year as a recipient of the ITA National Player to Watch and Midwest Region Player of the Year awards. She also was selected as the Big Ten Player and Freshman of the Year and as a member of the All-Big Ten team.
Returning junior Georgia Rose (Mettawa, Ill./North Shore Country Day) continued to lead by example, this season at the No. 2 position. A three-time All-Big Ten team selection, Rose posted another 35 wins this season and now has 99 wins for her career at Northwestern. In October, she won the Wilson/ITA Midwest Regional singles championship. She has spent the last two years ranked nationally in the top 15, and her success earned her a spot in both the NCAA singles and doubles championships this spring.
Sophomore Samantha Murray (Altrincham, England/Altrincham Grammar) spent the entire dual season at No. 3. Murray went 37-11 overall this season, including 20 wins in dual play. She also was selected to the All-Big Ten team and qualified for the NCAA singles championship for the second-consecutive season.
Sophomore Lauren Lui (Houston, Texas/Kinkaid) capped off an incredible year at No. 4 with a thrilling first-round victory in the NCAA singles championship over the 2006 winner, California's Susie Babos. This season, Lui went 23-1 in dual competition, including a perfect 22-0 from No. 4. She set a season-high 19-match winning streak before her loss in the NCAA second round, and has won 29-consecutive dual matches from No. 4 dating to March 2007. Lui also was a first-time selection to this year's All-Big Ten team.
Junior Nazlie Ghazal (Temecula, Calif./Chaparral) put together a solid performance from No. 5 this season, finishing the year 22-4 in dual competition. Ghazal also went 32-6 overall in doubles this season and played an instrumental role throughout both duals and the NCAA championships. On April 25, Ghazal recorded her 100th-career singles victory against Indiana in the second round of the NCAA championships.
At No. 6, sophomore Suzie Matzenauer (Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine) often was reliable in picking up a quick and dominating victory throughout the season. She closed out the year 27-3 in dual action and at one point rattled off 18-straight victories. Another instrumental 'Cat in doubles, Matzenauer compiled a 20-4 record with partner Sam Murray this year.
Junior Keri Robison (Decatur, Ill./Keystone National) stepped up to the call of duty when opportunity presented itself this year. During the dual season she recorded a victory at No. 6 against Ohio State and also posted a 10-3 overall doubles record this year.
Northwestern has been known for its ability to secure doubles points in the past, and the 2007-08 campaign was no different. As a team, the 'Cats went 129-26 overall in doubles this season for an .832 winning percentage. They recorded a 71-14 dual match performance, including a remarkable 27-3 Big Ten mark. Throughout the year, the Wildcats used 20 different doubles pairings on at least one occasion.
The tandem of Rose and Lui anchored the No. 1 position and earned a berth into the NCAA doubles championship. The 19th-ranked duo went a perfect 16-0 in dual play this season and 22-2 overall with their final match ending in a loss to the nation's No. 1-ranked pairing from UCLA in the opening round of the NCAA doubles tournament.
Murray and Matzenauer found a rhythm together at No. 2 en route to a 15-2 dual finish. The group went 20-4 overall, playing an important role to the success of doubles competition throughout the season.
At No. 3, Mosolova and Ghazal put together a 12-3 dual record and went 21-3 overall. The sleeping giants had some important wins down the stretch of the regular season and into the NCAA tournament that would often secure the doubles point and give Northwestern momentum heading into singles.
Northwestern kicked off its individual fall season in late September with a bang during a trip to Berkeley for the Nike Cal Invitational. NU sent seven student-athletes to the tournament and all reached at least the semifinal round in either singles or doubles. Mosolova and Rose reached the singles final, but abandoned the matchup against each other. The pairings of Lui and Conill and Mosolova and Ghazal each won a doubles title in their respective brackets.
A few 'Cats quickly transitioned in early October to the All-American Qualifier and Main Draw, held at the Riviera Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., while the remainder prepared for the upcoming Wildcat Invitational held in Evanston. Rose, Murray and Lui each participated in the All-American draw. Murray and Rose each reached the consolation finals in singles play, while Lui and Murray fell in the quarterfinal round of the doubles draw.
The Wildcat Invitational ran concurrently in Evanston, with the 'Cats again taking home some hardware. Three Northwestern singles players and two pairs of doubles teams made it to the final round of their respective brackets in the tournament. Mosolova and Ghazal won the Flight A doubles title, before abandoning a matchup against each other in the Flight A singles final.
Mid-October saw the commencement of the ITA Regional Main Draw held in Ann Arbor, Mich. Rose won the singles title in a finals matchup with teammate Sam Murray. Rose and Lui also reached the doubles final before falling in a tight match, 9-7, to the top duo from Notre Dame.
The beginning of November brought the ITA Indoor National Championships in Columbus, Ohio and the Duals in the Desert Tournament, held in Palm Springs, Calif. At the Indoor Championships, Mosolova defeated teammate Rose in the consolation final, while Murray advanced to the tournament's round of 16.
At Duals in the Desert, Ghazal and Conill each made it to the singles final in their respective flights, while Lui won the singles consolation title. Ghazal and Matzenauer also reached the doubles final. The conclusion of the tournament brought the fall season to a close.
The pre-dual season came to an end with the second Wildcat Invitational held in Evanston in mid-January. During the tournament Northwestern dominated its singles competition, as it did not drop a match. In doubles, the 'Cats fell only twice, and collected 18 victories. Four Wildcats won their respective singles flights.
On January 20, the highly anticipated dual season began with then-No. 7 Northwestern's first matchup against William & Mary at the Combe Tennis Center. The 'Cats jumped out of the gate strong in the dual season with two shutout victories to start the year.
In its third dual match on February 2, Northwestern would travel to Atlanta, Ga., to face-off with then-No. 1 Georgia Tech. Committed to making an early statement and displaying their abilities, the Wildcats stunned the nation with a dominating 6-1 victory over the defending national champions. The victory would move Northwestern to No. 3 nationally in the ITA polls.
Just a few days later, the Wildcats got a taste of some of the nation's elite talent with a trip to Madison, Wis., for the National Indoor Championships. After breezing through the first three rounds against teams all ranked nationally in the top 15, Northwestern would again face Georgia Tech, this time in the finals match.
Despite picking up some crucial singles wins from Rose and Matzenauer, the `Cats were hurt by failing to clinch the doubles point and ultimately fell to the Yellow Jackets, 4-2, for their first loss of the season. Unbeknownst to the Wildcats, it would be their last loss until the NCAA championships, en route to a team-record 23-match winning streak spanning three months.
The remainder of February would bring a mix of conference and nonconference action as the dual season progressed. Northwestern picked up its first two conference victories at home with wins against Penn State and Michigan.
The Wildcats then traveled to North Carolina for three dual matches. The country would again take notice of the 'Cats' talent with convincing 5-2 wins against No. 5 North Carolina and No. 8 Duke.
At 11-1 on the year and already recording victories over seven of the nation's top 15 teams, it would be all that Northwestern needed to earn the No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history. On February 26, the Wildcats became queen of collegiate tennis, and would not relinquish their crown through the NCAA championships in May.
After a two-week hiatus, the 'Cats returned to Evanston for weekend duals with Wisconsin and Harvard. After outscoring its opponents 13-1, Northwestern found itself at 13-1 overall heading into spring break.
The Wildcats traveled south to a warmer Texas over spring break for some certain-to-be battles with Texas and Baylor. As the top-ranked team, Northwestern would be matched up with the nation's No. 2 team, Baylor, which would put an impressive home winning streak on the line.
After taking care of then-No. 17 Texas, the 'Cats departed for Waco for the heavily anticipated 1 vs. 2 matchup. After securing the doubles point and getting wins from Lui, Rose and Ghazal, Northwestern clinched the match, 4-1, and ultimately went on to a convincing 5-2 victory over the nation's second-best team. The win would end Baylor's 37-match home winning streak that dated to 2005. At 15-1 on the year, the Wildcats had proven themselves contenders for a deep run at the national title.
Northwestern broke into the heart of its Big Ten schedule in late March, attacking it fiercely. A sweep over Purdue on March 29 brought the 'Cats their 10th-straight match victory and improved them to 16-1 on the season. In their final six conference matches, Northwestern would outscore its opponents 40-2 en route to its fifth-straight Big Ten regular-season title and fourth-straight undefeated conference season. The only scare in the final month of play came in a 4-3 victory at Notre Dame on April 9.
With coach Pollard and crew wrapping up the best regular season in program history (23-1), Northwestern would begin its quest toward a record-breaking 10th-straight Big Ten tournament title. The Wildcats journeyed to Purdue University with history on the line, and remained poised and in control throughout the tournament. Three-consecutive shutout victories secured the historic title for the Wildcats and carried Northwestern closer to its greatly prized national title.
A few days later, the Wildcats would learn that for the first time ever, they would enter the NCAA championships as the No. 1 overall seed. A first- and second-round Regional would once again be played at the Vandy Christie Tennis Center in Evanston. Indiana, Louisville and Illinois-Chicago were selected to make the trip for the beginning stages of the quest for a national crown.
Northwestern cruised past UIC and Indiana in the opening rounds, 4-0, respectively, to clinch a berth into the round of 16 at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Okla. With their fifth-straight appearance in the tournament's third-round, the Wildcats defeated No. 16-seeded Fresno State, 4-1. The win advanced Northwestern to the quarterfinal round for the second time in three seasons.
The 'Cats met No. 8-seeded California in the quarterfinal round with a chance to advance to the semifinals for the first time in program history. Northwestern had previously defeated Cal, 4-0, at the National Indoor Championships in February.
After securing the critical doubles point, the Wildcats took a 1-0 lead into singles play. However, California found the momentum to completely swing the match in its favor, ultimately taking the necessary four singles contests to clinch the match. Northwestern suffered its first defeat since February 10 and ended its hopes at a national title.
With a chance to salvage some hardware, four Wildcats remained in Tulsa for the NCAA singles and doubles championships. Mosolova, Rose, Murray and Lui each hoped to bring home a national title of their own, but were unable to make it through the extremely competitive field of the nation's top female tennis athletes. No. 4 seed Mosolova gave Northwestern its best chance at a national crown, but fell in the quarterfinal round to Zemenova.
Although the 'Cats had not finished as planned, nothing but a positive attitude toward the future can come from the 2007-08 campaign. All six of Northwestern's starters will return for the 2008-09 season with incoming freshman, Stacey Lee (Old Westbury, N.Y./Wheatley), bringing added depth to the program.