May 13, 2017
By Joanne Norell
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The University of Notre Dame women’s tennis team withstood a stout challenge by a short-handed Kansas squad and picked up a gutsy 4-3 victory Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Championship at the Varsity Tennis Center at Ohio State University.
How It Happened
With Kansas playing without No. 3 doubles or No. 6 singles, the Irish snared the advantage before the match began. Jayhawks freshman Maria Toran-Ribes has been out of the Kansas lineup since March with an injury, leaving a hole in the lineup as fellow freshman Amber Policare serves out a redshirt season.
The Irish (18-9) took used it to their benefit starting with doubles. While Kansas took a two-break lead at the No. 1 spot, Irish juniors Brooke Broda and Allison Miller snared the first break at No. 2 to take a 4-2 lead. Jayhawks duo Janet Koch and Anastasia Rychagova broke back in the next game, but Broda and Miller responded again to take a 5-3 lead. They clinched the point on Miller’s next service, winning 6-3 to give the Irish a 1-0 lead.
The Irish went up 2-0 as sophomore Rachel Chong won by default at No. 6. But despite the Irish advantage, the Jayhawks didn’t back down. Kansas won first sets on three of five courts and played close in first sets on the remaining two.
The Jayhawks (13-11) got on the board with the first played-out singles decision, as No. 77 Rychagova defeated senior Monica Robinson 6-0, 6-4 at No. 1. They tied the match when Tatiana Nikolaeva defeated senior Mary Closs 7-5, 6-3 at No. 5.
But the Irish continued to battle on the remaining three courts. Broda and Miller each won first sets by a 7-5 margin on Courts 2 and 3, respectively, while freshman Zoe Spence rallied from a one-set deficit to force a third set on Court 4. Broda capitalized on her lead, defeating Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum 7-5, 6-4 to give the Irish a 3-2 lead while Miller and Spence looked to clinch in third sets.
Spence took a 3-0 lead in the third set, but couldn’t hold on after the second changeover. She fell 3-6, 6-4, 3-6 6 to Nina Khmelnitckaia, but provided enough energy to help extend the match and give Miller a mental boost in her match on Court 3.
Miller’s match against Janet Koch played out almost opposite of Spence’s, as Miller fell behind 1-4 in the third set before rallying to tie it at 4-all and again at 5-all on deuce point. She then picked up another break, again on deuce point, before serving out the win for a 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 decision.
IRISH WIN!!!!!! Allie Miller wins an incredibly gutsy match, 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 to clinch it! pic.twitter.com/WGTRNGpoLJ
— ND Women's Tennis (@NDWomensTennis) May 13, 2017
The win marks Notre Dame’s first NCAA Championship win since 2014, when the Irish advanced to the Round of 16. Notre Dame improved to 35-29 in NCAA tournament matches, including 20-14 on neutral courts. The Irish also boosted their record against Kansas to 9-3 all-time.
Coach Jay Louderback’s Thoughts
On Miller’s performance and pulling out a tight victory…
“She was down match point at 5-4 in the third, and first down 4-1 in the third, and she just made a ton of balls. She did a great job of competing and that was just a huge win. Brooke’s win to get us to 3 was huge — we didn’t want to go into a third set there — and Zoe getting into that third set and making it tight I think helped Allie, loosened her up a little bit. But Allie played an unbelievable match.”
On the psychological factor of Kansas playing without a full lineup…
“Sometimes it’s harder. Our No. 1 and No. 2 doubles did a great job, but even though you have (the advantage with a default at No. 3), now you’re thinking, “Oh, we just have to win one,” and there’s a lot of times where that can backfire. I didn’t think it affected us that much in the singles, but I was more worried about us in the doubles with No. 3 not playing.”
On getting the team’s first NCAA tournament win since 2014…
“Not just that, but we’ve lost a lot of tight matches at the end of the year, and just to come through with a big match in the first round was something we needed. We played really well early in the year and got some tough matches, so I think this was just a really good match for us. Now we’ve got the winner of this next one which could probably be Ohio State, which is ranked No. 2 in the country, but I feel pretty good about that match.”
From Allie Miller
On the up-and-down nature of the match…
“All the matches were close and I was trying not to look at the scoreboard, but you kind of need to know, and we were going down in so many first sets. So I know knew I needed to win in the first and I was down 5-4 (in the first), then Brooke won her first, and I thought we both had to win. Then I lost the second set so fast, but Zoe started to come back and Monica was fighting back, and that helped me just stay in it. She was a really tricky player, but I just knew I wanted to win the match so bad, so I didn’t change the strategy at all. I just played with everything in me, running for every ball and yelling as loud as I could.”
On coming back from down 4-1 in the final set…
“There’s this quote that a friend told me that was my mantra for the whole year, which is ‘The mark of a warrior isn’t the sword, but the ability to stay calm.’ At the beginning of the year, I won (10 of my first 11 matches), and in all these matches, I had to fight. One match I was down 6-0, 5-0 or something and came back, so the biggest thing I learned this year was to be able to stay calm to give yourself a chance. It’s so hard to do when so much is on the line, with so many people here, and I want to win for the seniors. It doesn’t always work, but it gives me a shot.”
The Irish advance to the second round to face the winner of the match between No. 3 overall seed Ohio State and Buffalo.
No. 32 Notre Dame 4, No. 34 Kansas 3
May 13. 2017
OSU Varsity Tennis Center
1. No. 77 Anastasia Rychagova (KU) def. No. 101 Monica Robinson (ND) 6-0, 6-4
2. Brooke Broda (ND) def. Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum (KU) 7-5, 6-4
3. Allison Miller (ND) def. Janet Koch (KU) 7-5, 1-6, 7-5
4. Nina Khmelnitckaia (KU) def. Zoe Spence (ND) 6-3, 4-6, 6-3
5. Tatiana Nikolaeva (KU) def. Mary Closs (ND) 7-5, 6-3
6. Rachel Chong (ND) won by default
1. Mary Closs / Monica Robinson (ND) vs. No. 37 Tess Bernard-Feigenbaum / Nina Khmelnitckaia (KU) 4-5, unfinished
2. Brooke Broda / Allison Miller (ND) def. Janet Koch / Anastasia Rychagova (KU) 6-3
3. Jane Fennelly / Zoe Spence (ND) won by default
-- ND --
Joanne Norell, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2014 and coordinates communications efforts for the Notre Dame women's soccer, men's tennis, women's tennis and fencing programs. Norell is a 2011 graduate of Purdue University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in mass communication, and earned her master's degree in sports industry management from Georgetown University in 2013.