April 13, 2005
URBANA, Ill. – Junior Lauren Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) came through in a third set in the final match on court to give the 26th-ranked University of Notre Dame women’s tennis (12-8) team a 4-3 road victory against #54 Illinois (10-8) Wednesday afternoon at the Atkins Tennis Center. After the team struggled in those situations earlier this season, the Irish won a three-setter with the score tied 3-3 for the third time in as many matches.
Illinois won the doubles point, but Notre Dame was able to rebound to win the match after being down 1-0 for the first time in more than two years, first winning in straight sets at Nos. 2, 5, and 6 in singles. The Fighting Illini got two-set victories at Nos. 1 and 3, leaving the fate of the match in the hands of Connelly and junior Brianna Knue, competitors in the No. 4 match.
It was a familiar situation but a different outcome for Connelly, who had previously been winless in three career times as the final match left with the score tied 3-3. She won the first set before dropping a closely-contested second set and then rebounding to take the decisive frame for a 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 triumph to give Notre Dame its fourth consecutive victory, its longest winning streak since a seven-match stretch early last season.
Connelly has won five of her last seven and now shares the team lead in singles victories, at 22-10, including 12-8 in dual action. She dropped three-setters with the team score tied 3-3 in consecutive matches in February against #5 Duke and #9 North Carolina, but since then has been one of Notre Dame’s most consistent clutch performers, delivering three-set wins to help the Irish to tight victories against UNLV, Purdue, and #16 William & Mary before Wednesday. She now stands 4-2 in three-set matches when the team outcome is still undetermined. Connelly has won three consecutive three-setters and is now over .500 (8-7) in her career in three-set affairs. She is 11-3 in close matches this season.
A week ago, Notre Dame had lost eight consecutive 4-3 matches, dating back to last season (0-5 in 2004-05). But the Irish have turned around that trend, as junior Kristina Stastny (St. Louis, Mo./St. Joseph’s Academy) came through in three-set affairs with the score tied 3-3 twice in as many days last weekend to beat #16 William & Mary and #35 Indiana. Illinois is winless in five 4-3 contests this season.
Stastny and senior captain Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla./Bishop McGuinness H.S.) were both double winners for Notre Dame, while Lauren Connelly and freshman Brook Buck (Yukon, Okla./Oklahoma Christian School) provided singles victories.
Notre Dame also had lost 15 consecutive matches when dropping the doubles point prior to Wednesday. The last time the Irish rallied to win after trailing 1-0 was more than two years ago, on March 8, 2003, when they won 4-3 at BYU.
Sarah Jane Connelly lost just a pair of games, finishing first in singles to even the team score at 1-1. She defeated Pavlina Akritas of the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus by scores of 6-1, 6-1 at No. 6 to avoid a season-long three-match losing streak. Connelly is now 13-8 on the season, and she ended a three-match losing streak against the Midwest Region.
Buck put her team ahead by topping another rookie, Macall Harkins, 6-1, 6-4 at No. 2. Buck got back on the winning track; she had lost four straight after not suffering back-to-back defeats in her first 29 collegiate matches. The Notre Dame freshman is now 22-11 on the season, including 12-8 in dual play at No. 2. Harkins had been 11-5 this spring in dual-match play.
Freshman Momei Qu of Illinois evened the score at 2-2 by topping sophomore Christian Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) 6-0, 6-4 at No. 3. It was the first loss for Thompson since Feb. 26, ending a four-match losing streak, which included a near-month-long span in which she did not compete in singles due to a nagging knee injury. The Irish sophomore had been 2-0 since returning from that injury. Qu improved to 13-4 this spring.
Stastny continued her hot play, downing Emily Wang 7-6 (8-6), 6-1 at No. 5. Stastny is now 21-11 this season, including 12-8 in dual matches. She won a tiebreaker for the first time in three attempts this season and improved to 11-3 against regional foes (31-13 career).
At No. 1, Cynthya Goulet of Illinois, ranked 41st, prevailed in a tight two-setter against 37th-ranked Irish sophomore Catrina Thompson (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman H.S.) by scores of 7-6 (7-3), 6-4. The Illini senior, a native of QuÃƒÂ©bec, improved to 16-1 this spring at No. 1 singles and 25-5 overall. She has won seven in a row and 18 of her last 19 contests.
Illinois became just the fourth team in 20 matches this season to win the doubles point against the Irish. Notre Dame had won the doubles point in six consecutive matches and 10 in a row in regular-season play vs. Midwest Region opponents. It had been more than a year since a regional squad began with a 1-0 advantage vs. ND in a regular-season match, since the Fighting Illini did so on March 4, 2004, en route to a 5-2 victory.
The point came down to the No. 2 match, where Brianna Knue and Macall Harkins prevailed in an 8-6 decision against Lauren Connelly and Buck. The Illini duo improved to 26-6 this season, including 12-2 in dual action at No. 2. Knue and Harkins have been ranked as high as 54th this season. Connelly and Buck had their three-match winning streak ended, dropping to 24-10 on the season (13-7 dual).
The Irish started out well in doubles, as Sarah Jane Connelly and Stastny defeated Pavlina Akritas and Momei Qu by an 8-3 score in the quickest match. The Notre Dame team has won five of its last six and stands 23-8 on the season, including 13-5 in dual action at No. 3. Connelly and Stastny ended a three-match skid in outdoor action and improved to 11-3 against regional opponents. The junior became the first Notre Dame player to register 25 doubles victories this season, improving to 25-8.
Cynthya Goulet and Emily Wang pulled off an upset at No. 1, downing the Thompson twins, ranked #4 in the nation, 8-6. The Illinois team is 22-8 this season, including a 13-3 record in dual matches. The Irish sophomores had a four-match winning streak ended and fell to 23-5 on the season (15-3 dual). They lost for the first time this season against Midwest Region competition, snapping a six-match winning streak. The Thompsons also fell outdoors for just the second time in 12 matches. They are now 1-3 in their careers against Illinois doubles teams.
Notre Dame improved to 6-1 against Midwest Region opponents this season, with the lone defeat a 4-3 decision at Wisconsin last month.
The Irish beat Illinois for the 12th time in the last 13 meetings, after the Fighting Illini snapped an 11-match skid vs. ND last season.
Notre Dame will conclude its regular-season slate on Thursday, when it travels to #3 Northwestern for a 3 p.m. (CDT) contest.
#26 Notre Dame 4, #54 Illinois 3
No. 1: #41 Cynthya Goulet (ILL) def. #37 Catrina Thompson (ND) 7-6 (7-3), 6-4
No. 2: #90 Brook Buck (ND) def. Macall Harkins (ILL) 6-1, 6-4
No. 3: Momei Qu (ILL) def. Christian Thompson (ND) 6-0, 6-4
No. 4: Lauren Connelly (ND) def. Brianna Knue (ILL) 6-4, 5-7, 6-2
No. 5: Kristina Stastny (ND) def. Emily Wang (ILL) 7-6 (8-6), 6-1
No. 6: Sarah Jane Connelly (ND) def. Pavlina Akritas (ILL) 6-1, 6-1
No. 1: Goulet/Wang (ILL) def. #4 Thompson/Thompson (ND) 8-6
No. 2: Harkins/Knue (ILL) def. Buck/L. Connelly (ND) 8-6
No. 3: S.J. Connelly/Stastny (ND) def. Akritas/Qu (ILL) 8-3