March 14, 2015
Monica Robinson had to make a decision and make it fast during Friday's No. 1 doubles tennis match between the University of Notre Dame and top-ranked North Carolina.
"In tennis, points take place in pico-seconds," said Robinson, a sophomore on Notre Dame's top doubles team. "You have to make a decision and you have to trust it and not turn back."
Jamie Loeb, the top player in North Carolina's power-packed lineup, hit a shot into an area of the court that that Robinson called "no man's land."
"No return land" also would be accurate, except on Friday at Notre Dame's Eck Tennis Pavilion.
Robinson came in off the baseline and went for a shot down the line.
Point, set, match.
Robinson's bullet down the right alley whizzed past the Tar Heels and locked up an 8-5 victory for the Irish.
"I decided I was going to pass them down the line, and I went for it," Robinson said. "The margin was small, but I did it."
No. 1 North Carolina went on to win the Atlantic Coast Conference battle 5-2 against No. 28 Notre Dame.
Robinson and Quinn Gleason's victory againstCaroline Price and Loeb, who are ranked the No. 12 doubles team in the nation, continued a surge by the Fighting Irish duo, who rank 21st in the country. Robinson and Gleason lost two of their first three matches of the spring, but they have now won eight of their last nine matches.
"This was a big one," Robinson said. "We've been talking about this match. We knew we could do it. I'm just so happy we made it come true. We put that desire and that want into reality. It's nice."
Robinson and Gleason took command when they closed in on the victory.
"Once we hit that match point, Quinn and I thrive on that," Robinson said. "We've been there before. The biggest thing for us was we had confidence in closing it out. When I saw the ball, I went for it. I believed."
According to Gleason, she and Robinson had an edge from the start.
"Monica and I came out with a ton of energy, and I think that really made the difference," said Gleason, a junior. "We really wanted that match. They were ranked 12thin the country, so we knew it would help our ranking if we were able to win. We knew the doubles point would be huge. We came out with a lot of fire, and we worked really well today.
Fighting Irish coach Jay Louderback said Robinson and Gleason have improved significantly.
"They've started playing really well together," Louderback said. "Monica has worked on a couple of things. She's gotten real aggressive with her lob. She can almost control a match with her lob, which is good because it's very offensive and when she hits it, Quinn is at the net and then she gets a lot of balls she can cut off.
"This match will help," Louderback said. "They know and they feel they can play with anybody."
Louderback's strategy in putting together a doubles team is to match a big hitter with a player who is more steady and makes fewer errors. Gleason is the big hitter, and Robinson rarely makes errors.
"If you get two big hitters together, if they're both playing well, they're really good," Louderback said. "If they aren't both playing well, they can be really bad.
"Quinn hits big. She finishes a lot. She will miss some because she's a big hitter, but Monica does a good job of keeping Quinn in the point. Monica can control the ball and give Quinn a chance to finish points."
Robinson, known for a vicious backhand in Juniors, has developed her forehand. Gleason likes the ad side and is lethal with the backhand angle. They have learned to adjust to each other's styles.
"Quinn and I are clicking, and we're trusting each other," Robinson said. "Each match from here on out we're going to build on. We're getting more experience and more confidence that we can compete with any team in the country."
Gleason said she and Robinson are becoming more instinctive.
"The best teams don't have to think very much," Gleason said. "You know where each other are going to be. That's what Monica and I have really improved on since the fall. We've done a lot of different things, working in I formation and Australian style, and that's really helped us and made the difference in a lot of matches."
Gleason said all of Notre Dame's matches against North Carolina were fiercely contested, and that the Irish will gain momentum for the rest of the season.
"I think this is a great team," Gleason said of the Irish. "We did really well. All of the matches were a lot closer than the scores showed. We were right there with the No. 1 team in the country. This is going to give us a lot of confidence going forward with the rest of ACC play."
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent