(Courtesy of Saint Mary's Media Relations)
LOS ANGELES, Calif.-After a tight doubles session broke in favor of Northwestern, the Saint Mary's women's tennis team fought to keep the match close in singles but couldn't close the gap as the Wildcats clinched the match with three more wins and the Gaels fell 4-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.
Early on, Northwestern looked set to cruise to the opening point of the match. The Wildcats held big leads on courts 1 and 3 and, while Saint Mary's took an early lead on court 2, Northwestern eventually turned the tide and built a convincing advantage there as well. An 8-1 win at No. 1 gave the first lead, and the momentum, to the Wildcats.
That wasn't about to stop the Gaels from fighting back. The comeback started on court 3, where Kareena Manji and Jamie Pawid rallied from 5-2 down to square their match with Alex Chatt and Lok Sze Leung at 5-all. Northwestern bounced back to take the next game, but Saint Mary's countered with a game of their own to tie the match again. That's when Manji and Pawid really took off, going up 7-6 when Northwestern returned Manji's lob into the net. SMC's duo rolled through the next game and took the 8-6 win, leaving the first point to hang on the outcome at No. 2.
Again, it was a big rally by Saint Mary's that provided the suspense. Down 6-2 against Rheeya Doshi and Brooke Rischbieth, the duo of Danielle Flores and Mary-Anne Jessup got a break back and made it 7-5 Wildcats. The comeback continued in the next game when Jessup jumped for an overhead smash and fired it off a defenseless Northwestern player to bring the score to 7-6. Eventually though, Doshi and Rischbieth regained momentum, and a return sent wide by the Gaels gave the Wildcats the 8-6 win and the doubles point.
Singles started slowly for Saint Mary's as Northwestern jumped out to first set leads in five of the six matches. Wins at No. 1 and 2 put the Wildcats on the verge of clinching but, as they extended the lead, the Gaels were working to build a little momentum of their own in a few of the matches still on court. Pawid had the best day of any Gael in singles, winning the first set 6-4 over Leung at No. 3 and building a 5-0 lead in the second. The left-hander had match point when play was halted, as Chatt scored a 6-1, 6-3 win at No. 4 to finish Northwestern's win.
With the result, Saint Mary's finishes the season 14-10 overall. The Gaels spent the entire season in the national rankings yet again and earned a ticket to their fifth NCAA Tournament in the last six years. Seniors Danielle Flores and Catherine Leduc capped strong Saint Mary's careers, and the Gaels also relied on a bit of youth with two freshmen and a sophomore in the singles lineup. Every player on the roster contributed heavily throughout the season, and the future remains bright for head coach Lisa Alipaz's team.