URBANA, Ill. -- A thrilling NCAA round of 16 match ended in a controversial finish as 11th-seeded Northwestern saw its season come to an end Friday evening in a 4-3 loss to sixth-seeded Miami (Fla.).
"The character of our team cannot be questioned," said Northwestern
head coach Claire Pollard. "I'm really proud of them. We pride ourselves on being a tough out and putting forth a good effort and getting a lot out of ourselves. It was a great example of that today."
A hard-fought win by Belinda Niu at No. 3 singles allowed the Wildcats to battle back to force a 3-3 tie in the match, leaving things up to the action at No. 6. Tied 4-4 in the third set that would decide the entire match, Nida Hamilton had her serve broken by Melissa Bolivar.
Needing to break back to extend the match, Hamilton first took a medical timeout and then fought off a pair of match points to get within 30-40. The NU junior then hit what basically everyone in attendance believed was a winner down the line, but Bolivar called the ball out and the chair umpire did not overrule the call, giving the Hurricanes the match.
With the win, Miami advances to take on Texas A&M in Sunday's quarterfinal round at 4 p.m. The Aggies defeated Virginia Friday afternoon.
The Wildcats and the Hurricanes had met previously this season with NU posting a 4-2 victory on Feb. 10 in Charlottesville, Va., at the ITA Team Indoor Championships.
Friday's match got underway three hours and 15 minutes after its originally scheduled 4 p.m. start time due to the previous matches on the courts running long.
In doubles play, NU fell behind a break right out of the gates at Nos. 1 and 3 as Miami surged out to an early advantage.
At No. 3, Niu and Kate Turvy got the break back, but the Hurricanes' pairing of Stephanie Wagner and Brittany Dubins got it right back. Miami's No. 1 team of Monique Albuquerque and Clementina Riobueno would go up another break, eventually making it 5-0 before the 'Cats got on the board.
Alicia Barnett and Veronica Corning also had their serve broken early on in their match at No. 2 as Bolivar and Kelsey Laurente jumped out to a 4-1 advantage. Northwestern was unable to rally back as Miami posted wins of 8-1 at Nos. 1 and 3 to take the doubles point and the early lead in the match.
The Wildcats were able to get past the disappointing doubles result by starting strong in singles.
At No. 4, Linda Abu Mushrefova blanked No. 102 Riobueno in their first set, winning 6-0. NU also got solid starts from Niu at No. 3 and Alicia Barnett at No. 5 as they both took their opening set by a score of 6-3. Nida Hamilton had the opportunity to give the Wildcats four first-set wins, but she was narrowly edged by Bolivar in a tiebreaker, 8-6.
A 6-2, 6-1 win by Wagner over Corning gave the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead in the match. The matchups at Nos. 2 and 4 ended simultaneously as No. 57 Turvy fell 6-1, 6-3 to No. 80 Laurente, but Mushrefova took down Riobueno 6-0, 6-4 to make the match score 3-1.
Just moments later, Barnett bounced back from dropping her second set to cruise in the third, finishing off Albuquerque 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 and leaving the match to be decided by a pair of three-set matches at Nos. 3 and 6.
Niu was edged 6-4 by Lilekite in her second set, while Hamilton bounced back from her first-set tiebreaker loss to cruise by Bolivar 6-1, setting up a decisive set.
Niu fell behind a break early and found herself down 3-0 in the final set, but rallied back to break Lilekite twice to go in front 4-3. Lilekite was able to break back and then hold to go back in front 5-4. The Hurricane has a match point, but Niu was able to eventually hold on to tie it 5-5. The Wildcat then managed to break once again before holding to square the match 3-3.
A berth in the quarterfinal round was left to be decided by the match at No. 6, though the ending proved bittersweet for everyone involved.
"It was such a disappointing doubles point," Pollard said. "It was shocking. I haven't seen us play that poorly and give something away so easily in a long, long time. Coming off that, I wasn't really sure what to expect in singles. I was really proud of the effort that they put forward.
"We got off to a pretty good start in singles. They played very well at No. 1 and I thought really well at No. 2 and just outplayed us at those spots. We got off to a good start at Nos. 3, 4 and 5 and 6 was a really, really tight that first set. That sort of held us and then we fought off a match point at No. 3 and then just came up a little short at No. 6."
Turvy will represent Northwestern in the NCAA Singles Championship while Hamilton and Mushrefova will team up to take part in the Double Championship beginning next week in Urbana.
#6 Miami 4, #11 Northwestern 3
1. #60 Stephanie Wagner (MIA) def. Veronica Corning (NU) 6-1, 6-2
2. #81 Kelsey Laurente (MIA) def. #57 Kate Turvy (NU) 6-1, 6-3
3. Belinda Niu (NU) def. #105 Lina Lilekite (MIA) 6-3, 4-6, 7-5
4. Linda Abu Mushrefova (NU) def. #102 Clementina Riobueno (MIA) 6-0, 6-4
5. Alicia Barnett (NU) def. Monique Albuquerque (MIA) 6-3, 1-6, 6-1
6. Melissa Bolivar (MIA) def. Nida Hamilton (NU) 7-6(6), 1-6, 6-4
Order of Finish: 1, 2, 4, 5, 3, 6*
1. Albuquerque/Riobueno (MIA) def. #14 Mushrefova/Hamilton (NU) 8-1
2. Bolivar/Laurente (MIA) vs. Corning/Barnett (NU) 6-3
3. Wagner/Dubins (MIA) def. Turvy/Niu (NU) 8-1
Order of Finish: 1, 3*