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ND Women’s Tennis: Tar Heels slip by Irish in close match

Vicky Jacobsen | Sunday, February 19, 2012

It felt like a case of déjà vu.

On Saturday afternoon, Irish players and fans circled around court six as sophomore Julie Sabacinski lost a three-set thriller against North Carolina sophomore Tessa Lyons, giving the No. 13 Tar Heels (7-4, 1-0 ACC) the 4-3 victory.

The next day, the outcome of the duals match against No. 57 Illinois (5-2) again came down to the last pairing as sophomore Britney Sanders and Illini freshman Caroline Price battled for the deciding point on the No. 4 court. This time, though, Sanders held on for the 6-4, 7-5 win and the No. 23 Irish (6-3, 1-0 Big East) finished on the right side of a 4-3 decision.

Seniors Shannon Mathews and Kristy Frilling, the nation’s No. 3 doubles pair, jumped to a 3-0 lead against North Carolina senior Shinann Featherston and junior Lauren McHale, but lost the next five games. Although Mathews and Frilling lost to Featherston and McHale last February, they were not intimidated by the sudden momentum swing and chipped away at the lead until they regained it, 8-7. The Irish claimed match point at 9-7 when Frilling caught McHale off-balance and the Tar Heel swatted helplessly as the ball glided in front of her.

“We just stayed really focused and we didn’t give up, and I think that was really important,” Frilling said. “It’s hard, sometimes, to be up and then lose the lead so fast, but I think we just didn’t let it affect us.”

North Carolina claimed the next doubles match as Lyons and senior Haley Hemm defeated Irish junior Chrissie McGaffigan and sophomore Jennifer Kellner, 8-6, but Notre Dame earned the doubles point when Sanders and Sabacinski closed out Tar Heels senior Jennifer Stone and junior Zoe De Bruycker, 8-5.

“It’s always really helpful to win the doubles point, because it kind of gives people confidence going into singles,” Frilling said.

That confidence was apparent in the two quickest matches – Sanders dispatched Price (6-3, 6-4) and Frilling shook off McHale (6-4, 6-1) with little difficulty.

“I was really happy with how I played today,” Frilling said. “I’ve been struggling a little bit so this is the first match where I’ve felt the flow of things and felt good, so hopefully I can keep that up for the rest of the year.”

But with the score at 3-0 Notre Dame, the tide turned in North Carolina’s favor. Kellner dropped at 6-4, 6-4 decision to Featherston. Within seconds of each other, Mathews fell to De Bruycker (7-5, 7-5) and McGaffigan lost to junior Gina Suarez-Malaguti (6-4, 6-3).

With the duals match tied 3-3, attention turned to court six, where Sabacinski had forced a third set against Lyons. While trailing 5-1 in the last set, Sabacinski tried to return the ball with a floater that dribbled its way into the net, giving Lyons and North Carolina the win.

“It’s a heartbreaker, especially when you know you’re so close and especially with a good team,” Frilling said. “We’re almost there, so I think a couple more matches like this and we’ll be fine.”

Although the Irish arrived at the Eck Tennis Pavilion on Sunday looking to rebound, the match was oddly reminiscent of the previous day’s contest. Illinois senior Marisa Lambropoulos and freshman Melissa Kopinski wasted no time as they defeated Sabacinski and Sanders, 8-2. Mathews and Frilling trailed Illini junior Rachael White and sophomore Allison Falkin at 5-2 and rallied to 7-5, but eventually lost, 8-5.

Kellner and McGaffigan took down Illini senior Chelcie Abajian and junior Breanne Smutko in a tie-break, 8-7 (7-3), but the doubles point had already gone to Illinois.

Both Mathews and Frilling dominated their singles opponents; Mathews beat Lambropoulos 6-1, 6-2 and the rejuvenated Frilling won 6-0, 6-1 over Falkin.

With the score tied at 3-3 and one match left to finish, all attention turned to Sanders and Illini senior Amy Allin.

“I just thought of my team. We were down, and I just wanted to come back and win it for my team,” Sanders said. “If I was going to lose I was going to stay as long as I could, and if I was going to come back and win I was going to do it for my team.”

With the score at 6-5 in the second set, Allin hit the match point into the net, giving the Irish the win and a happy ending to what started as a trying weekend.

The Irish will try to keep the good times rolling against Indiana at the Eck Tennis Pavilion at 3 p.m. Friday.


Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu