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ND Women’s Tennis: Irish claim Big East championship on home court

Megan Finneran | Monday, May 2, 2011

For the fourth consecutive year, the No. 23 Irish captured the Big East title, coming out on top over Georgetown, Marquette and No. 42 South Florida over the course of the tournament this weekend. The Irish (16-9) wrapped up the tournament Sunday, beating South Florida 4-2 after losing 5-2 to the Bulls earlier in the regular season.

“We all wanted revenge on South Florida today and we got it,” Irish junior Kristy Frilling said.

Junior Shannon Mathews, nationally ranked 58th, was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, clinching each of the three matches with a singles win at the No. 2 position. Mathews’ efforts, combined with stellar doubles performances from the No. 2 and No. 3 teams propelled the Irish to the title.

“We went into the weekend excited to play at home and in front of our family and friends,” Mathews said. “We took it one match at a time because we knew we were going to have some tough matches against Georgetown and Marquette.”

In doubles competition, the Irish never had to fully utilize their No. 1 junior pair, Frilling and Mathews. The No. 3 freshmen duo Jennifer Kellner and Julie Sabacinski went 3-0 through the tournament, concluding with an 8-3 win over South Florida’s Alessandra Bonte and Kate Parker. On the No. 2 court, sophomore Chrissie McGaffigan and senior Kristen Rafael matched the freshmen’s perfect record, clinching the doubles point in each match. They took down South Florida’s Irene Rehberger and Ecaterina Vasenina in the finals.

“It was really important for us to win the doubles point each day and that gave us a huge momentum boost for the singles play,” Mathews said.

While singles competition never let the Irish down, it was not as constant through the tournament as doubles.

The top-seeded Irish began their run to the title Friday against eighth-seeded Georgetown. After securing the doubles point, Sabacinski kicked off singles play on the No. 6 court, taking down Georgetown’s Alexandra Landers 6-1, 6-1. McGaffigan followed at No. 5, defeating Madeline Jaeger 6-1, 6-2. Mathews wrapped up the quarterfinals, winning her No. 2 match 6-1, 6-4 against Lauren Greco.

The semifinals brought a fairly easy 4-0 victory against Marquette (19-10), who the Irish beat 6-1 April 30 during the regular season. After the No. 3 and No. 2 doubles courts wrapped up the doubles point, the first three singles matches concluded in victory, compiling the overall win.

Fourth-ranked Frilling took the first step for the Irish, beating Golden Eagles Olga Fisher 6-1, 6-1 on the No. 1 court. Kellner, ranked No. 112 nationally, followed at No. 3, defeating Rachael Hush 6-1, 6-0. Mathews won the final point when she took down Paola Calderon.

In the final match against South Florida, the Irish began smoothly, with a 6-0, 6-0 victory by Rafael in the No. 4 slot against Alonso Martinez and a 6-4, 6-3 win by McGaffigan at No. 5 against Bonte. With only one point left before the Irish claimed the title, the match seemed easily won.

The Bulls, though, did not surrender, instead rallying to win the next two matches. In the No. 1 position South Florida’s Rehberger took down Frilling 7-5, 6-3, a loss shortly followed by Kellner’s 6-4, 6-4 defeat to Janette Bejlkova on the No. 3 court. With the score set at 3-2, Mathews began play on the No. 2 court, where she was able to defeat Vasenina 6-4, 7-5, winning not only her court, but also leading the Irish to the match and title victories.

“Everyone stepped up and played great, especially [Mathews], who clinched all three matches this weekend,” Frilling said. “We’ve all just got to get through finals and practice really hard these next two weeks.”

Tournament selection for the NCAA championship begins Tuesday.

“The first two rounds of NCAAs will be good matches but I think we all believe we have the ability to make it to the Sweet 16,” Frilling said.

The first rounds of NCAA competition begin May 13.