ND Women’s Tennis
Irish close season with tough win over Orange
Zach Klonsinski | Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Notre Dame closed its inaugural year in the ACC with a victory over the Orange in Syracuse, N.Y., on Saturday. The Irish (15-8, 8-6 ACC) defeated the Orange (5-14, 5-9 ACC) by a score of 4-3 to clinch a winning conference record and the seventh seed for the 15-team ACC tournament.
“We knew it was going to be a tough match at their place,” Irish coach Jay Louderback said. “It was a good match by our team. … It was really nice to win the last one going into the tournament.”
The doubles point set the tone for the rest of the match as each side earned one doubles win, with Notre Dame’s senior duo of Jennifer Kellner and Julie Sabacinski defeating the Orange’s freshman pairing of Rhiann Newborn and Olivia Messineo, 8-5. After senior Britney Sanders and sophomore Quinn Gleason fell at No. 1 doubles, the Irish turned to their newest doubles team, freshman Mary Closs and junior Molly O’Koniewski. The pair found themselves down 4-0 early in the match, but battled back and eventually defeated Syracuse juniors Amanda Rodgers and Komal Safdar, 8-6.
“Our [position] three doubles did a great job,” Louderback said. “They were down 4-0 but they didn’t lose their heads, kept their composure and battled back to give us the point, which ended up being huge for us.”
The back-and-forth continued as the match moved into singles play, with the sides splitting the six matches. Sanders and Gleason rebounded from the doubles loss to each claim a point for the Irish, as Gleason defeated Rodgers 6-2, 6-1, and Sanders trumped Syracuse senior Maddie Kobelt 6-3, 7-6 (4-2). As has been the case all season, the Irish’s depth proved to be a difference-maker, as sophomore Julie Vrabel clinched the match for the Irish with her 6-2, 7-6 (3-0) win over Safdar in the final singles position.
“Obviously it’s a great way to finish with a bunch of wins,” Louderback said. “We’re really excited to play in the tournament with how we’ve been playing.”
The Irish went on a seven match winning streak to finish the season, outscoring their opponents by a combined 45-4. Notre Dame has also won 10 of its last 12, but most of the wins have come against the bottom half of the ACC. Heading into the conference tournament, the seventh-seeded Irish have beaten every team seeded below them but lost to every team seeded above them. However, as Louderback pointed out, most of those matches came much earlier in the year, and he feels his team’s play has improved greatly since then.
“We’ve gotten better from even the middle of the season, especially our doubles,” Louderback said. “Our [position] three doubles have gotten so much better, we’ve been working hard. … That’s been the biggest difference between the two halves of ACC play is our doubles.”
The ACC is one of the deepest conferences in the country: according to the latest polls, the conference boasts four of the top 12 and seven of the top 27 teams in the country. No. 5 Duke, last week’s first-ranked team nationally, is only the fifth seed in the ACC tournament; No.11 North Carolina earned the top seed. With such a large number of quality teams in the conference, Louderback knows the Irish have to play well in every match in order to keep their ACC season alive.
The Irish play the winner of 10th-seeded Boston College (13-8, 5-6 ACC) and 15th-seeded Pittsburgh (4-14, 0-14 ACC) on Thursday. Although Notre Dame has beaten both teams earlier this year, Louderback knows either team could pose a challenge.
“We practice later on Wednesday, so we’ll know who we are playing,” Louderback said. “We’d love to get another shot at some of those other teams, but we have to focus on this one first. We beat Pitt here and won a tight one at BC before that. … We could play really well or not well and then we’re done. But we’ll have no trouble focusing on our first game.”
The Irish will take on the winner of the match between Boston College and Pittsburgh on Thursday at noon in Cary, N.C.