UIC vs Northwestern in NCAA tourney
By Laura White
UIC will face Northwestern in the first round of the NCAA women’s tennis championship after the Flames won their 17th Horizon League Championship Sunday.
The teams will play at 2 p.m. May 10 at Northwestern’s Christie Tennis Center in Evanston.
UIC, the Horizon’s top-ranked team, defeated No. 2 Youngstown State 4-3 to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the 15th straight season.
“It was a great win during one of the most exciting championships that I have ever been a part of,” head coach Shannon Tully said.
“The team really came out on a mission and worked hard to earn the doubles point, and worked extremely hard to clinch the singles points. It was a total team effort and I can’t remember many matches where every person on the team contributed to the win, so that was a really fun part about today.
“Now we are all looking forward to the NCAA Tournament.”
UIC came up big in doubles to take the critical first point of the match. Natalia Kuvakina and Ann-Sophie Hahn collected the first win after defeating Tijana Raicevic and Annina Brendel, 8-3, at No. 3 before Haley Craig and Mariana Palacios took down Marta Burak and Margarita Sadovnikova for an 8-6 win at No. 1.
At No. 2, the match by Jana Knoppe and Kathryn Sharples against Lauren Hankle and Paula de Man went unfinished after the doubles point was decided.
The Flames went down two matches in singles before collecting their first win by Keti Mebuke, securing the victory after two more wins from Knoppe and Sharples.
Youngstown State took two quick wins to go up 2-1 on UIC after de Man defeated Craig, 6-1, 6-4, at No. 1 and Burak took out Kuvakina, 6-3, 6-3, at No. 3.
Mebuke tallied the first singles win for the Flames at No. 6, where she captured a 6-3, 6-4 win over Raicevic to tie the match, but the Penguins came back after Sadovnikova took a three-set 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 win over Palacios at No. 2.
By the time Knoppe had gotten through her first set with Hankle at No. 4, three other matches had ended, but Knoppe finished strong to take a 6-3, 6-0 win and leave the deciding match at No. 5 with Sharples.
Sharples came in to win her first set against Brendel at No. 5 before dropping the second.
With the fate of the match in her hands, Sharples ultimately came back in the third to claim a 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-4 win and clinch the title.
“With being the last match on the courts, I was nervous but I knew it was a chance to step up and win it for the team,” Sharples said.
“It felt like there were seven of us on the court and not just me, so it was great to clinch the match.”
With the win, UIC ends Horizon League competition with an 8-1 record, 39-13 in singles and 19-7 in doubles.