June 15, 2009
2008-09 Final Release and Statistics
EVANSTON, Ill. -- After a decade of unparalleled success within the Big Ten Conference, head coach Claire Pollard and her squad proved in the 2008-09 season that they are ready to remain a permanent fixture near the top of the national rankings. Northwestern held the No. 1 ranking in the Campbell/ITA College Tennis rankings from the preseason through the start of the NCAA Championships and eventually finished No. 2 in the country for the second straight year.
Dating to Feb. 28, 2008, Northwestern--which received a preseason No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history back in January--has now owned the top spot in the polls in 25 of the last 27 ranking periods. This season, NU concluded the year with a final points average (84.65) that was 0.67 points higher than Duke's, but the ITA traditionally awards the final No. 1 ranking to that year's NCAA champion.
Northwestern finished the year with a record of 28-2--one win shy of the program-record 29 set in 2008--and with its 11th straight Big Ten title in tow. The Wildcats went 10-0 in the league and posted three sweeps in the Big Ten Tournament to extend their winning streak against conference opponents to 77 matches. All told, NU won 70 of 72 singles matches as well as 35 of 37 doubles matches in dual contests against league opponents.
Early in the year, Northwestern valiantly defended the top position thanks to one of the most impressive accomplishments in the Claire Pollard era, a title at the ITA National Indoor Team Championship in February. On their way to becoming just the sixth program to win the title in the 22-year history of the event, the Wildcats knocked off four teams--Miami (Fla.), Notre Dame, Georgia and eventual NCAA champion Duke--that would finish the season ranked in the top seven in the country. NU also became the first Big Ten school and the first northern team to claim the championship.
In addition to the team exploits, Northwestern saw unprecedented success on the individual side of things as three Wildcat players earned All-American status in the same season for the first time in program history. Sophomore Maria Mosolova, who entered the NCAA Singles Championship as the top overall seed, reached the quarterfinals to earn her second All-American honor and finished the year ranked No. 2 nationally in singles with a 36-8 record. In doubles, NU's No. 1 pairing of senior Georgia Rose and junior Lauren Lui won two matches at the NCAAs to reach the quarterfinals, securing Rose's fourth All-American nod (two doubles, two singles) and the first for Lui. The pairing earned the No. 13 spot in the final ITA doubles poll.
Junior Samantha Murray earned her third invitation to the NCAA Singles Championship and finished the year ranked No. 56 nationally with a 34-13 record. Rounding out NU's list of NCAA qualifiers is senior Keri Robison, who received her first bid to the individual championships thanks to a stellar season at No. 2 doubles with Mosolova. The duo finished 25-5 overall with a 22-3 record in dual matches--including a memorable victory to clinch the doubles point against Georgia in the ITA National Indoor Team Championship final--and landed at No. 36 in the ITA doubles rankings at year's end.
On the Big Ten level, the conference's top awards again went to the league's most dominant team as Pollard and Mosolova repeated as the Big Ten Coach of the Year and Player of the Year, respectively. It was Pollard's fifth-career nod as the league's top coach in her 11 years at Northwestern while Mosolova joined Cristelle Grier as NU's only two-time Players of the Year, keeping the award in Evanston for an eighth straight season.
The Big Ten selected a league-best four Wildcats--Mosolova, Rose, Murray and Lui--to the all-conference team for the second year in a row. It was the fourth time in program history that four NU players received All-Big Ten recognition.
It was an eventful fall season for the Wildcats, whose first true test came at the All-American Championships in Los Angeles. Rose won her first two matches and picked up a win over the 2008 ITA Rookie of the Year, Hilary Barte of Stanford, before falling in the quarterfinals to Marina Cossou of Cal. Mosolova advanced as far as the semifinals by knocking off last year's NCAA singles champion, Georgia Tech's Amanda McDowell. In the semis, Mosolova dominated Arizona State's Kelcy McKenna in the first set, 6-0, but was narrowly edged in the next two sets, 7-5 and 7-6 (4).
NU came home the following week to host the Wildcat Fall Invitational, where freshman Stacey Lee won a closely contested three-set match against Selma Salkovic of DePaul to win the flight C singles championship. Lee won four matches over the weekend on her way to the title.
From there it was on to the Midwest Regional Championships, where Murray kept the title of Midwest singles champion in Evanston for the eighth straight season. Murray defeated a pair of Notre Dame players--Kristy Frilling and Kelcy Tefft--in her last two matches. Freshman Elena Chernyakova made her presence known as well, reaching the quarterfinals thanks to a trio of victories.
After an impressive showing at the Duals in the Desert--where Mosolova, Lui and Robison all won their respective singles flights--, Mosolova capped the individual season with a run to the semifinals at the ITA National Indoor Singles Championships. In all, Northwestern concluded the fall with a 74-34 singles record and with eight total singles and doubles titles.
After garnering the preseason No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history, NU won early-season matches against New Mexico, Tulsa and Texas to enter the ITA Indoor Team Championship as the event's No. 1 seed. After disposing of Miami (Fla.), Northwestern encountered a tough test against eighth-seeded Duke in the quarterfinals. With the team score even at three, the outcome hinged on an intense battle at No. 5 singles between Nazlie Ghazal and Duke's Melissa Mang. The score in the third set was tied at five with Ghazal trailing 0-30 in her service game, but the NU senior stormed back and lost just one point the rest of the way, winning 7-5 and sending the Wildcats into the semifinals.
The next day, Northwestern regrouped to knock off Notre Dame by a 4-1 margin to earn a berth in the finals against Georgia. Robison and Mosolova's tiebreaker win to secure the doubles point gave the Wildcats momentum in singles, where Murray bested Nadja Gilchrist, 6-4, 6-3, to clinch NU's first title at the event.
Bolstered by the team championship, NU sandwiched wins against Georgia Tech and North Carolina around its only regular-season loss of the year, a 4-3 defeat against Duke on Feb. 28. On March 4, Northwestern began defending its 10 consecutive Big Ten titles with a 7-0 win at Wisconsin. NU went on to post its fifth straight undefeated Big Ten season--beating each team except Illinois and Michigan by 7-0 scores--and celebrated its 11th straight title on Senior Day with a sweep of Penn State.
NU headed to Wisconsin--also the site of the ITA Indoor Team Championship--for the Big Ten Tournament, where it extended its winning streak against Big Ten opponents to 77 with wins against Minnesota, Ohio State and Michigan. This marked the fifth year in a row Northwestern downed the Wolverines in the championship match.
From there, the Wildcats entered the NCAA Championships as the top overall seed for the second year in a row and kicked off the tournament with a first-round sweep against first-time tournament qualifier Miami (Ohio) in Evanston. The following day, Northwestern bested a tough 26th-ranked Kentucky team, 4-1, on a chilly, overcast day in Evanston, to earn a spot in the tournament's round of 16 in College Station, Texas, where it faced the same two teams it faced in Tulsa in the 2008 championships. NU handled No. 16 Fresno State, 4-0, thanks in part to Lui and Rose taking down the nation's top-ranked doubles team, Anastasia Petukhova and Renata Kucerkova, to earn a rematch with eighth-seeded California in its third trip to the quarterfinals in the last four years.
The match got off to an auspicious start for the Wildcats, with Murray and Chernyakova winning 8-4 at No. 3 doubles to finish the dual season with a remarkable 23-2 dual record. After Cal took the No. 1 match, the Golden Bears eked out the crucial doubles point thanks to a tiebreaker win at the No. 2 spot. Cal held the momentum through the start of singles, winning four first sets, but the Wildcats fought hard to come back. Robison responded after dropping the first set to Stephany Chang 6-0 to take the next two, 6-2, 6-1 and end her senior year with a 31-8 mark. At No. 5, Ghazal came back against 34th-ranked Bojana Bobusic to win the last two sets 6-4, 7-6 (4) to end her career on a 14-match singles winning streak. Lui played a lengthy and memorable first set against No. 54 Claire Ilcinkas, hitting several winners to win 12-10 in an extended tiebreaker. Nevertheless, the Golden Bears eventually picked up the necessary three singles points and dealt NU just its second loss of the year.
Although the Wildcats lose three key components of their singles lineup in Rose, Ghazal and Robison, Coach Pollard has plenty of options for the 2009-10 season thanks to the experience gained this year by Cherynakova and Lee as well as the No. 2-ranked recruiting class due to arrive on campus in the fall. As has become routine, this year's squad has set the bar at the highest heights, but if history is any indication, Northwestern will find a way to raise its standards once again in 2009-10.