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ND Women’s Tennis: Irish win sixth-straight league title

Katie Heit | Monday, April 22, 2013

The Irish continued their reign over the Big East conference with a sixth-straight Big East Championship this weekend in Tampa, Fla. 

Senior captain Chrissie McGaffigan said the key to the victory was keeping their energy high despite the long weekend. 

“Every match we played we had to compete our hardest and bring our A-game,” McGaffigan said. “It’s hard to do that over an entire weekend, but we were able to compete our best the entire time. We kept up our intensity and positive energy. I was really proud of the girls.” 

After earning a bye in the first round for their top ranking, the Irish (17-8) breezed easily into the semifinals with a 4-0 victory over Marquette on Friday. Quick 8-1 victories at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles gave the Irish an early 1-0 lead. In singles action, freshman Quinn Gleason finished her match first with a 6-1, 6-1 victory at No. 3 singles. Junior Jennifer Kellner brought the Irish lead to three with a 6-2, 6-3 win at the No. 2 spot. 

No. 40 junior Britney Sanders clinched the Notre Dame victory with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 win over Marquette’s Ana Pimienta in the top singles spot, bringing the final score to 4-0 and sending the Irish into the semifinals. 

The Irish struggled Saturday against DePaul. Despite a victory at No. 3 doubles by Gleason and sophomore Katherine White, the Irish lost the doubles point when No. 67 pair Sanders and junior Julie Sabacinski were unable to claim their match and the No. 55 duo of Kellner and McGaffigan dropped their match 8-4.  

Behind 1-0, the Irish continued to struggle. Though Gleason claimed her match 6-0, 6-2 to even the score, McGaffigan was unable to win her match at No. 4 singles and fell 6-3, 6-4. Shortly after, White lost at No. 5 singles to give DePaul (15-10) a 3-1 lead. 

Victories from freshman Julie Vrabel and Kellner tied the contest at 3-3. Sanders finished off the Irish comeback with a gritty finish, beating No. 84 Matea Cutura 3-6, 7-6, 6-1 to send the Irish to the finals. 

McGaffigan said despite the struggle against DePaul on Saturday, the match against South Florida on Sunday was the toughest of the weekend. 

“They had a huge crowd out,” McGaffigan said. “We just had to cheer on each other and fight really hard in our matches.” 

Facing South Florida (12-7) for the third-straight Big East finals, the Irish felt especially driven to defeat their long-time rival. 

Notre Dame pulled ahead early, sweeping doubles to pull ahead 1-0 heading into singles. White fell at No. 5 singles 6-2, 6-2 to tie the score at 1-1. 

Gleason won her third singles match of the weekend with a 7-6, 6-3 victory at the No. 3 spot. McGaffigan ended her Big East career with a tough 6-0, 5-7, 6-3 win against Paula Montoya, giving the Irish a 3-1 advantage. 

Sanders claimed her third match of the weekend with a long 7-6, 7-5 win over No. 103 Katie Vasenina to end the showdown and give the Irish their 13th Big East title. For her perfect record over the weekend, Sanders was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. 

Despite their big victory, the Irish know they have bigger fish to fry when they head to the NCAA tournament next month. 

“We’re so happy and proud to have won the Big East tournament, but we’re not going to stop here,” McGaffigan said. “We’re going to get back and start practicing, knowing the NCAAs are coming up. That’s the tournament we’ve been working toward all year, so I don’t think it will be hard to keep ourselves motivated.” 

The Irish will conclude their season with a run in the NCAA tournament May 11. The seeding for the tournament, as well as the game schedule, will be announced April 30 during the NCAA.com Selection Show. 

Contact Katie Heit at [email protected]