Following a Big Ten Tournament semifinals appearance, Northwestern clinched its 26th consecutive bid in the NCAA Tournament but lost a first round bout with Wake Forest Saturday.
Accompanying the Wildcats (14-10, 8-3 Big Ten) in the Athens Regional were the Demon Deacons, No. 14 Georgia, the regional host, and Charleston Southern.
NU and Wake Forest’s weekend matchup was their second meeting this season. The squads first met at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Kickoff Weekend on Jan. 29, with the Demon Deacons grabbing a 4-2 win in the early moments of the regular season.
“We played them in the beginning of the year, and we are a brand new team (now),” senior Clarissa Hand said Friday before the match. “We’ve come really far… and everybody realizes that if you don’t win this one, that’s it, so we’ve got to bring our best tennis.”
Hand and sophomore Maria Shusharina were selected as members of the All-Big Ten team following their success in singles and as a doubles pair this season.
Hand said she appreciated the honor, and it was an indication that she can compete at a high level against some of the best players in the conference and nation.
“It was a nice confidence boost,” Hand said. “(Maria) and I did really well in doubles, especially since where we were coming from last year barely winning at (court) three. It’s really nice for us, and I think it’s nice for the team as well, because we’ve come a long way. “
Entering the contest, Hand remained the Cats’ lone ranked singles player in the latest ITA poll.
Meanwhile, Wake Forest entered the match ranked 23rd nationally after winning four of their last five matches. Coach Jeff Wyshner’s side boasts two of the top 30 doubles pairings in the country in Anna Brylin and Brooke Killingsworth (No. 5) as well as Casie Wooten and Samantha Martinelli (No. 27). The Demon Deacons also have two ranked singles players: No. 32 Carolyn Campana and Wooten at No. 111.
Wake Forest exploded out of the gates. Hand and Shusharina were quickly defeated at court one by Brylin and Killingsworth. At No. 3, freshman Sydney Pratt and senior Hannah McColgan fell 3-6.
With the doubles point in hand, the Demon Deacons’ dominance continued into singles play. Wake Forest stretched the lead to 3-0 after victories at courts four and five.
With its season hanging by a thread, NU battled back. Pratt won at No. 3 in straight sets, 6-1, 7-6 (7-2), and junior Christina Hand followed up the performance with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 win to get two points for the Cats.
But ultimately, it wasn’t enough. Clarissa Hand came up just short in a three-set battle at court one, as the Demon Deacons grabbed the match-winning fourth point, ending NU’s season.
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