May 11, 2002
EVANSTON, Ill. – The 21st-ranked University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team saw its season come to an end with a 4-2 loss to No. 30 Wisconsin Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Championships on the campus of Northwestern University. It marks the first time in 10 NCAA appearances that the Irish have not won at least one match in the tournament.
Junior Katie Cunha (Mercer Island, Wash.) had a hand in both points for Notre Dame, teaming with senior Lindsey Green (El Cajon, Calif.) for a victory at No. 1 doubles, and adding a straight-set triumph at No. 5 singles. The Irish claimed the doubles point, but lost the top four singles matches as the Badgers earned their first NCAA victory since 1999.
“We were playing from behind virtually the entire day,” Notre Dame head coach Jay Louderback said. “We battled and played hard, but it’s tough when you’re always trying to dig yourself out of a hole. Give Wisconsin a lot of credit – they played very well and deserved to win the match.”
The Irish and Badgers also fought through some adverse playing conditions in the opening moments of the match, which began outdoors at the Vandy Christie Tennis Center. However, the rains came midway through the doubles competition, forcing a suspension of play as the match relocated indoors to the Combe Tennis Center. At the time play was halted, Notre Dame led 4-3 in the No. 2 contest and 3-2 in the third slot, but trailed 3-4 in the No. 1 position.
Once play resumed, the momentum quickly shifted in Wisconsin’s favor. At No. 3, the Badger tandem of Katie McGaffigan and Lindsay Martin won four consecutive games, breaking serve on both freshman Sarah Jane Connelly (Oklahoma City, Okla.) and sophomore Alicia Salas (Engelwood, Colo.) to seize control of their match. The Irish duo got within 6-5 with a service break of its own, but UW broke back and eventually registered the 8-5 win.
Needing to win both of the remaining doubles matches to get the crucial first point, Notre Dame found itself in dire straits when the No. 2 pairing of seniors Becky Varnum (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Nina Vaughan (Corona del Mar, Calif.) lost their early advantage and fell behind, 6-5 to the Wisconsin team of Katie Dougherty and Teresa Gonzaga. However, with its collective backs against the wall, the Irish rallied back, winning then next three games to grab the win, converting on their fifth match point.
That left the doubles point in the hand of the No. 1 units of Cunha and Green against the Badgers’ Linde Mues and Lara Vojnov. Neither side led by more than two games the entire way, as UW took a 5-3 lead and Notre Dame fought back to take leads of 7-6 and 8-7. In the latter situation, the Irish pair actually had four match points on Wisconsin’s serve, but the Badgers clawed back and forced a tiebreak at 8-all. The teams traded the first four points of the breaker, before Notre Dame reeled off three consecutive markers, two on UW’s serve. The Irish then closed out the win on a Badger double fault, winning 9-8 (7-3) to take the doubles point.
“I don’t think the move inside really affected us a great deal,” Louderback said. “We’re used to playing inside, so it wasn’t a big deal. But, we did seem to be battling from behind once we moved indoors.”
The Irish lead in the match didn’t last long, as Wisconsin registered first-set victories in five of the six singles matches. The most disheartening of those setbacks came at No. 1 singles, where Varnum dropped a 7-6 (8-6) decision in a tiebreak to the Badgers’ Vanessa Rauh. The Notre Dame captain actually served for the set at 6-5, and later held a set point at 6-5 in the tiebreak, but could not finish off her UW counterpart.
Wisconsin (17-8) quickly chalked up a pair of singles wins as Shana McElroy downed Vaughan at No. 3 by a 6-2, 6-2 count, and Mues defeated Green in the second singles contest by the same score. However, Notre Dame pulled even in the match when Cunha finished off an impressive 6-2, 6-0 win at No. 5 singles over Dougherty.
With the score tied 2-all, the Irish appeared ready to take control of the match when Salas bounced back to force a third set with McGaffigan at the No. 4 flight. Salas entered the day having won 27 of her previous 29 matches and was 24-2 in dual match play, so Notre Dame’s fortunes seemed solid. However, McGaffigan regained her composure and upset the Irish standout, winning 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 to push her team to the brink of victory.
Connelly kept Notre Dame alive at the No. 6 position, winning a second-set tiebreak over Martin to take her match to the limit. Meanwhile, Varnum seemed to have shaken off her first-set disappointment, taking a 6-5, 15-40 lead in the second stanza. However, the UW standard-bearer erased those two set points and took the top singles match to another tiebreak. In the breaker, Rauh scored five of the first six points, three on Varnum’s serve and closed out the match and Notre Dame’s season with a 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-4) victory.
“Becky played very hard for us today,” Louderback said. “She just had some breaks that didn’t go her way. That seemed to be the case with a lot of our singles matches. We couldn’t find a way to get a point when we needed it, and Wisconsin was able to do that.”
Connelly saw her match at No. 6 abandoned once the match was clinched. At that time, she had a 4-2 third-set lead over Martin, having broken the Badger freshman three times in the final frame.
Notre Dame ends its season with a 14-14 record, while Wisconsin advances to the second round of the NCAA Championships, where it will face the winner of Saturday’s other regional match between No. 16 overall seed Northwestern and Illinois-Chicago. The 55th-ranked Irish doubles team of Cunha and Green will represent Notre Dame in the 32-team NCAA Doubles Championships, which take place May 21-25 at the Taube Family Tennis Center in Stanford, Calif.
– ND –
#30 Wisconsin 4, #21 Notre Dame 2
NCAA Championships – First Round
Combe Tennis Center (Evanston, Ill.)
No. 1: *Vanessa Rauh (UW) d. #114 Becky Varnum (ND) 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-4)
No. 2: Linde Mues (UW) d. Lindsey Green (ND) 6-2, 6-2
No. 3: Shana McElroy (UW) d. Nina Vaughan (ND) 6-2, 6-2
No. 4: Katie McGaffigan (UW) d. Alicia Salas (ND) 6-4, 2-6, 6-2
No. 5: Katie Cunha (ND) d. Katie Dougherty (UW) 6-2, 6-0
No. 6: Sarah Jane Connelly (ND) vs. Lindsay Martin (UW) 2-6, 7-6 (7-2), 4-2, abandoned
No. 1: *#55 Cunha/Green (ND) d. Mues/Lara Vojnov (UW) 9-8 (7-3)
No. 2: Varnum/Vaughan (ND) d. Dougherty/Teresa Gonzaga (UW) 8-6
No. 3: McGaffigan/Martin (UW) d. Connelly/Salas (ND) 8-5
* denotes clinching victory