Championship No. 17 for women’s tennis
By Laura White
When the deciding point went to Kathryn Sharples in the final singles match of the day, the No. 1 UIC women’s tennis team pulled away from No. 2 Youngstown State to capture its 17th-consecutive Horizon League Championship Sunday.
With the 4-3 win over the Penguins, the Flames advance to the NCAA Tournament for the 15th-straight season.
“It was a great win during one of the most exciting championships that I have ever been a part of,” said head coach Shannon Tully.
“The team really came out on a mission and worked hard to earn the doubles point, and worked extremely hard to clinch the singles points. It was a total team effort and I can’t remember many matches where every person on the team contributed to the win, so that was a really fun part about today.
“Now we are all looking forward to the NCAA Tournament.”
UIC came up big in doubles to take the critical first point of the match. Natalia Kuvakina and Ann-Sophie Hahn collected the first win after defeating Tijana Raicevic and Annina Brendel, 8-3, at No. 3 before Haley Craig and Mariana Palacios took down Marta Burak and Margarita Sadovnikova for an 8-6 win at No. 1.
The Flames went down two matches in singles before collecting their first win by Keti Mebuke, securing the victory after two more wins from Knoppe and Sharples.
Youngstown State came in and took two quick wins to go up 2-1 on UIC after de Man defeated Craig, 6-1, 6-4, at No. 1 and Burak took out Kuvakina, 6-3, 6-3, at No. 3.
Mebuke tallied the first singles win for the Flames at No. 6, where she captured a 6-3, 6-4 win over Raicevic to tie the match, but the Penguins came back after Sadovnikova took a three-set 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 win over Palacios at No. 2.
By the time Knoppe had gotten through her first set with Hankle at No. 4, three other matches had ended, but Knoppe finished strong to take a 6-3, 6-0 win and leave the deciding match at No. 5 with Sharples.
Sharples came in to win her first set against Brendel at No. 5 before dropping the second. With the fate of the match in her hands, Sharples ultimately came back in the third to claim a 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-4 win and clinch the title.
“With being the last match on the courts, I was nervous but I knew it was a chance to step up and win it for the team,” Sharples said.
“It felt like there were seven of us on the court and not just me, so it was great to clinch the match.”
With the win, UIC ends Horizon League competition with an 8-1 record, 39-13 in singles and 19-7 in doubles. Tully goes to 118-1 against conference opponents during her 12 seasons at the helm of the program.
The Flames will wait for their first-round opponent in NCAA competition to be unveiled during the Selection Show Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
UIC 4, YSU 3
1. Paula de Man (YSU) def. Haley Craig (UIC) 6-1, 6-4
2. Margarita Sadovnikova (YSU) def. Mariana Palacios (UIC) 6-3, 3-6, 6-2
3. Marta Burak (YSU) def. Natalia Kuvakina (UIC) 6-3, 6-3
4. Jana Knoppe (UIC) def. Lauren Hankle (YSU) 6-3, 6-0
5. Kathryn Sharples (UIC) def. Annina Brendel (YSU) 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-4
6. Keti Mebuke (UIC) def. Tijana Raicevic (YSU) 6-3, 6-4
1. Haley Craig/Mariana Palacios (UIC) def. Marta Burak/Margarita Sadovnikova (YSU) 8-6
2. Jana Knoppe/Kathryn Sharples (UIC) vs. Lauren Hankle/Paula de Man (YSU) 4-5 unfinished
3. Natalia Kuvakina/Ann-Sophie Hahn (UIC) def. Tijana Raicevic/Annina Brendel (YSU) 8-3