Women’s tennis preps for NCAA tournament

The women’s tennis team competes in the NCAA Championship Friday. The team captured the Horizon League Championship April 28. Photo: Steve Woltmann

By Laura White

The women’s tennis team (16-5, 8-1 HL) will make its 15th consecutive NCAA Championship appearance Friday, facing No. 11 Northwestern (18-8, 9-2 Big Ten) at 2 p.m. at the Vandy Christie Tennis Center in Evanston.

The Flames captured their 17th straight conference title at the Horizon League Championship April 28.

UIC claimed the No. 1 seed to bypass the first round, then defeated Detroit, 4-1, in the semifinals and edged Youngstown State, 4-3, in the final.  Through competition during the dual season, senior Haley Craig and junior Mariana Palacios were named to the All-Horizon League first team.

In singles competition during the regular and postseason, junior Jana Knoppe scored the best record for the Flames (15-5). Palacios, Kathryn Sharples and Keti Mebuke tallied 14 wins.  Knoppe led UIC with a 8-0 record against Horizon League opponents.

In doubles, the Flames stuck with the same pairings for most of the season with Craig and Palacios at No. 1, Knoppe and Sharples at No. 2 and Natalia Kuvakina and Ann-Sophie Hahn at No. 3. Craig and Palacios came in at 12-6 (8-1 Horizon League). Kuvakina and Hahn lost only three matches for a 15-3 record, 14-2 at No. 3.

Friday’s match will be the sixth time that UIC and Northwestern have met in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. While the teams did not compete during the season, Craig faced Northwestern’s Belinda Niu at the USTA/ITA Midwest Regional in the fall and fell 6-3, 6-0.

UIC enters into competition to face its first nationally-ranked opponent since the first round of the 2012 NCAA Championship, when it fell, 4-0, to No. 15 Michigan.  The Wildcats hold a No. 11 team ranking, with Kate Turvy ranked No. 57 in singles and Linda Abu Mushrefova and Nida Hamilton No. 14 in doubles.

Also competing in the first round, No. 20 Baylor (16-14) and No. 43 San Diego State (22-5) will face off Friday at 11 a.m. before the Flames’ match with the Wildcats.  The winner will advance to the second round and take on UIC or Northwestern.  If the Flames advance, it will mark the first time the team has faced either opponent.

For live scoring links and full details on the first and second rounds, visit Northwestern Tournament Central.

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