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ND Women’s Tennis: No. 39 South Florida upsets No. 2 Irish to claim Big East crown

Chris Hine and Dan Maloof | Monday, April 23, 2007

Notre Dame thought it had everything under control.

Ahead 3-1 against No. 39 South Florida, all the Irish had to do was win one of the remaining three singles matches to clinch its third straight Big East championship.

But South Florida had other plans.

The Bulls swept the final three matches and shocked the No. 2 Irish 4-3 to claim the Big East tournament title.

“After we won the doubles, I felt like we should win three singles,” Irish coach Jay Louderback said. “They’re a good team, but against a team like that we should not lose four singles matches.”

Catrina Thompson lost the first of the final three matches at No. 1 singles. After splitting the first two sets with South Florida’s Shadisha Robinson, Thompson grabbed the first game of the third set and jumped out to a 40-15 lead in the second game. B Robinson rallied, scoring four straight points to capture the game then using that momentum to down Thompson.

“[Robinson] got a little confidence and rolled on [Thompson],” Louderback said. “[If Thompson] wins that second game, goes up 2-0, she’s in control but she just let her serve slip away. She played a bad game and that hurt her.”

But even with Thompson’s defeat, the Irish still had reason to believe they could pull out the win. Freshman Cosmina Ciobanu was still on the court. All season, Ciobanu had not lost a match – until Sunday. Ciobanu dropped her first match of the season in a three-set thriller to Gabriela Duch 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

“She didn’t play as well as she normally did. She won the first set then didn’t play a very good second set. She got behind 4-1, and was fighting back the whole time,” Louderback said. “Then, the third set she did the same thing, got down 4-1. After winning the first set she played behind the rest of the match and that’s not like her. That’s tough to do. She got back into the third again down 4-0 and was 5-5 but couldn’t finish it.”

Katie Potts represented Notre Dame’s last hope. Like Ciobanu, Potts took her match with South Florida’s Iciri Rai to a 5-5 score in the third set before losing the final two games, giving South Florida the title.

“[Potts] won the game to go up 5-4 and serve, and lost four points quickly and [Rai] got some confidence,” Louderback said. “She didn’t play very well the last three games but got in position to win it 5-4.”

The Irish began the match by gaining the doubles point as the senior All-American tandem of Catrina and Christian Thompson were able to defeat Southern Florida’s Jessica Sweeting and Duch by a score of 8-4.

In addition, Ciobanu and freshman Kali Krisik earned an 8-4 victory over the Bulls duo of Liz Cruz and Rai.

Junior Brook Buck and sophomore Kelcy Tefft tied Shadisha Robinson and Courtney Vernon 7-7, but the Irish had already clinched the doubles point to gain an early 1-0 lead.

The Bulls won the first singles point as Courtney Vernon handled Christian Thompson in straight sets, 6-1, 6-1.

Freshman Colleen Rielley then stepped up for the Irish and regained a 2-1 advantage in the match 6-1, 6-3 victory over Southern Florida’s Jessica Sweeting.

Sophomore Kelcy Tefft pushed the lead to 3-1 with a 7-5, 6-1 triumph over Liz Cruz at the No. 4 singles spot.

The Irish earned a berth in the finals after defeating Connecticut and Marquette 4-0 in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.

“It’d be nicer to have a couple of tougher matches leading up to the finals, but there’s no excuse for us to lose to South Florida,” Louderback said.

The Irish will look to get back on track in time for the NCAA Team Championship beginning May 11.