Northwestern Women Come From Behind Against Michigan to Claim 13th Big Ten Tournament Title
by Colette Lewis
, 2 May 2011
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In the damp and gloom, behind 3-0 to a Michigan team that had beaten her squad 6-1 last week for the Big Ten regular season title on the same Ann Arbor courts, Northwestern women's head coach Claire Pollard had ample reason to expect her team's Big Ten tournament title winning streak would end at 12. But somehow she and the four remaining Wildcats on the courts kept the faith, ran the table, and emerged with a 4-3 win and their 13th consecutive Big Ten tournament title.
"I felt okay, even though our backs were against the wall," said Pollard, in her 13th year leading the Wildcats. "You've got to find ways. A great team like Michigan, I knew we weren't going to roll over them, that it might be a question of hanging in, hanging in there and eventually it would turn. And it did."
Both tenth-ranked Michigan and 19th-ranked Northwestern breezed into the tournament final, blanking their quarterfinal and semifinal opponents and thoroughly dominating in singles and doubles action.
But once the championship match doubles began, under low clouds and a drizzle so light it didn't reach the court surface, both teams knew the points would be much harder to come by.
Northwestern's No. 3 team of Brittany Wowchuk and Elena Chernyakova got on the board first, defeating Samantha Critser and Mimi Nguyen 8-6. Moments later, Michigan won at Court No. 2, with Whitney Taney and Rika Tatsuno claiming an 8-5 decision from Maria Mosolova and Belinda Niu.
On court 1, Michigan's Brooke Bolender and Denise Muresan, who had fallen behind early against Linda Abu Mushrefova and Nida Hamilton, trailed 6-4 when the other two matches finished. Hamilton served for the doubles point at 7-6, but a double fault and a forehand error proved costly, and she was broken without earning a match point. Muresan saved a break point in the next game, with Bolender's overhead making it 8-7 Michigan, and Abu Mushrefova needed to hold to force a tiebreaker. At 15-30, Bolender hit one volley after another until Abu Mushrefova finally hit a backhand wide, giving the Wolverines two match points. They only needed the first, with a long and well-played point ending when Abu Mushrefova missed an overhead.
Riding that momentum after the break, Michigan came out and took early leads on four of the six singles courts. Hundreds of fans, most wearing maize and blue jackets and sweatshirts to ward off the chill, clapped and cheered as Muresan took the first set from Mosolova at 1, Bolender the first from Niu at 2, Taney the first from Wowchuk at 3 and Tatsuno the first from Stacey Lee at 5.