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ND Women’s Tennis: Big comeback marks team’s time in Hawaii

Katie Heit and Vicky Jacobsen | Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Irish hit the beach, attended a luau and visited Pearl Harbor during their week in Hawaii, but the most memorable part of their spring break trip might be the 4-3 win over Texas Tech that took eight hours, three venues and a furious doubles comeback.

The first surprise of the day for No. 17 Notre Dame (12-4, 1-0 Big East) came on the No. 3 doubles court. Junior Chrissie McGaffigan and sophomore Jennifer Kellner fell behind 0-7 before winning the next eight games and eventually claiming the match with a score of 9-8 (7-4), securing the doubles point for Notre Dame.

“I’d never seen that before,” Irish coach Jay Louderback said, referring to a doubles team coming back from a 7-0 deficit. “They needed to win – we lost at No. 1 doubles and won at No. 2. We think they were down six match points during that time, but they came back.”

The No. 1 ranked doubles team in the country, seniors Shannon Mathews and Kristy Frilling, had already lost their match 9-7, despite battling back since trailing 7-4 earlier in the match. But sophomores Julie Sabacinski and Britney Sanders squeezed in a 9-8 victory before the beautiful weather turned bad.

“Just as we finished the doubles there were some clouds that came in and as we were ready to start singles it rained,” Louderback said. “We just went and got lunch, got away from the court.”

But when the team returned from lunch, the rain showed no sign of stopping and the umpire suggest they move the contest to public courts at Diamond Head, where it was not raining.

The No. 18 Red Raiders (11-3, 1-0 Big 12) won three of the first five singles matches to finish: Texas Tech sophomore Samantha Adams took down No. 73 Frilling (2-6, 6-0, 6-4), junior Caroline Starck defeated No. 102 Sanders (6-2, 6-3), and freshman Kenna Kilgo beat Sabacinski (7-6, 6-0).

No. 52 Mathews earned a point for the Irish with a 6-2, 7-5 win over No. 123 junior Elizabeth Ullathorne and McGaffigan dispatched sophomore Nikki Sanders, but the sun started to set on the unlit courts as Kellner and sophomore Rashmi Teltumbde entered the third set of their match, which would decide the overall contest. Kellner eventually took the win, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3 in her third facility of the day.

“It was awesome to clinch the match. I could tell how much everyone cared and it was by far the most exciting tennis experience I have had here yet,” Kellner said. “The conditions were different [from South Bend] and Tech had been in Hawai’i for almost a week before we got there, so they had a little bit of an advantage.”
Frilling agreed that the win was particularly sweet.

“It was tough because we had to adjust to so many elements and always be ready to play,” Frilling said. “Jennifer Kellner stepped it up for us and got that final point – she was definitely the all-star of the day. It was an important win because they were ranked ahead of us.”

Mathews said that beating a team with Texas Tech’s talent was crucial in improving the confidence of the team as a whole.

“Being able to beat such a high caliber team was really exciting,” Mathews said. “It was especially important heading into this weekend.”

For the remainder of the week, the weather provided a calmer playing environment for the Irish. The occasional mist provided a relief from the warm weather as the Irish rounded out their trip to Hawaii with two more victories, a 6-1 win over No. 58 Hawaii (8-7, 0-1 WAC) and a 7-0 defeat of No. 59 Wyoming (8-6).

Although Frilling and Mathews lost two of their three doubles matches while they were in Hawaii – they also fell to junior Simona Synkova and sophomore Veronica Popovici of Wyoming, 9-8 – they moved up to No. 1 in the national doubles rankings.

“It’s exciting to be ranked No. 1, but it is just a number,” Frilling said. “I think it motivates us more to keep winning all of our matches and prepare for NCAAs.”

The Irish will head to Ann Arbor today to take on No. 20 Michigan (7-5, 1-0 Big 10), a team that has traditionally proved tough competition. Louderback said the week in Hawaii will likely help the team in their first outdoor matches on the mainland.

“They played really well [in Hawaii], especially for our first three outdoor matches,” Louderback said. “We’re excited because we’re going to play outdoors again. It’s supposed to be 80 degrees at Michigan, so we’re really excited to be playing them outside. They’re a good team, but they’re very, very good indoors.”

Mathews and many of her teammates said they were looking forward to facing the Wolverines, who have become tough rivals for the Irish even though Notre Dame has won 22 of the teams’ 32 meetings.

“It’s always been a big match for us,” Mathews said. “We like to always come out pumped up and so do they. It’s going to be a great battle.”

The Irish will make the last stop on their road trip today at the Varsity Tennis Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., beginning at 4 p.m.


Contact Katie Heit at [email protected] and Vicky Jacobsen at [email protected]