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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

W's TENNIS: Irish drop match to No. 3 Northwestern

Thursday's match against No. 3 Northwestern was recorded as a 5-2 loss for No. 26 Notre Dame.But the Irish (12-9) counted it as a moral victory, walking off the courts with their heads high after proving they were more than capable of challenging some of the nation's top competitors."It was a lot closer than it seemed," sophomore Christian Thompson said. "We've had a lot of close meets with other top teams like Northwestern all year. Just a couple of points made the difference." Senior captain Sarah Jane Connelly agreed."I think getting that close to winning helped us realize that we can play with them and be competitive. That's going to give us an edge if we meet them again [in the postseason]," Connelly said. No. 37 Catrina Thompson led the effort with an upset of No. 3 Audra Cohen. Coach Jay Louderback said Thompson's victory was the highlight of the meet."I think [Catrina's] win showed us that we can win against anyone at No. 1 singles; we have the talent to keep up with anyone," Louderback said. The sophomore became the first collegiate player to beat Cohen in straight sets with the 6-2, 6-2 victory at No.1. Cohen had begun her collegiate career with 23 consecutive victories and boasted a singles title to her name after winning the ITA All-American Championships. Ranked as high as No. 1 this season in singles, Cohen entered Thursday's contest with a record of 39-4 with each of her defeats resulting from three-set matches. "Cohen is a player who doesn't make many errors; she has one of the best forehands in the country," Louderback said. "It took a lot of patience for Catrina to win. She runs into trouble when she doesn't play patiently because she goes for the end points too quickly. But she played patiently and it paid off for her." With the victory, Thompson improved to 10-8 versus nationally ranked opponents and 20-8 overall. Before Cohen, Thompson's highest-ranked career win was over North Carolina's No. 26 Aniela Mojzis in February. "Catrina has always played well indoors," Louderback said. "But she played very well outdoors [on Thursday]. Indoor matches are a lot quicker because you can finish points quicker. But outdoor meets are a lot harder, especially against players like Cohen, because you have to deal with the wind." Freshman Brook Buck and junior Lauren Connelly also staged an upset, winning the tiebreaker to defeat No. 36 Alexis Prousis and Kristi Roemer, 8-7 at No. 2. This was the second time in less than a week that the duo had claimed a win over a ranked opponent after beating No. 48 Megan Muth and Amy Wei of William and Mary last Saturday. With the win, Connelly and Buck improved their record to 25-10 on the season and 14-7 in dual action. But despite Connelly and Buck's impressive victory, Northwestern (18-2) claimed the all-important doubles point with wins at Nos. 1 and 3. In one of the most fiercely-contested matches of the meet, No. 1 Christelle Grier and Cohen bested No. 4 Catrina and Christian Thompson, 8-4. The crucial make-or-break match at No. 3 resulted in a heartbreaking 9-7 victory for Valerie Vladea and Feriel Esseghir over Sarah Jane Connelly and junior Kiki Stastny to guarantee the Wildcats the doubles point. "All of our kids played well in the doubles matches," Louderback said. "We had a very high quality match at No. 1 that looked like it could've been an NCAA [Championship] match. Our kids made the doubles point very tight and played with a lot of heart. I would be interested to see how we would do if we played Northwestern again." The Irish were just as tenacious in the singles portion of the meet, forcing many of their matches into third sets. Sarah Jane Connelly prevailed over Alexis Conill, 7-6, 6-3, at No. 6 to record an additional win for Notre Dame. With the victory, Connelly improved her record to 14-8 on the season and 5-5 in dual meets. But her efforts were not enough to overcome the Wildcats, who had notched quick victories to build an early lead. Vladea logged the first win for Northwestern, besting Lauren Connelly, 6,0, 6-0, at No. 4 and No. 66 Prousis followed up with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Christian Thompson at No. 3. Buck fell to No. 16 Grier, 6-3, 7-6 (5), at No. 2, and Stastny dropped her match to Andrea Yung, 6-4, 4-6, 1-0 (8), at No. 5.Notre Dame will next take the courts on April 22, competing in the Big East Conference Championship. The Irish, who have five championships to their name, are the only conference school in the national rankings and are expected to take the top seed. Louderback said this weekend offered the Irish a chance to condition themselves for the tough competition they expect to face in the postseason. "Our kids have had close matches against a lot of teams this season," Louderback said. "The schedule we play is very tough so our kids are used to playing at a high level. They're used to being ready to playing tough teams with every meet. I think playing at that level will really help them with the Big East and the NCAA's."