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Virginia suffers first-round loss

Northwestern knocks squad out of championship contention with dominating singles performance

The sparkling early-season run for the No. 9 Virginia women's tennis team met its end Friday evening in the first round of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships as the team fell in a tough 4-2 loss to No. 12 Northwestern.

Seventh-seeded Virginia (6-1, 2-0 ACC) started strong in the first match, sweeping the doubles matchups to take an early 1-0 lead. But when singles play began after the break, the team struggled to keep up with the Wildcats (4-1, 0-0 Big Ten).

"I think we may have hit an energy wall between the doubles and singles," coach Mark Guilbeau said. "I didn't expect that because we've been so physically strong. After the doubles, the nerves really started to grab us."

The Cavaliers quickly dropped three matches in straight sets beginning with No. 85 junior Hana Tomljanovic falling to Northwestern sophomore Veronica Corning 6-2, 6-2. No. 76 junior Maria Fuccillo followed with a 6-1, 6-3 defeat at the hands of sophomore Nida Hamilton and No. 30 senior Lindsey Hardenbergh took a tough loss to No. 86 junior Brittany Wowchuk, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1.

"It was a major uphill battle, which was weird after being up 1-0," Guilbeau said. "They got on us so well in singles and really dealt us a tough hill to climb."

Virginia managed to bring the score to 3-2 as No. 29 senior Emily Fraser broke through in a tiebreaker to beat No. 26 junior Kate Turvy 6-0, 7-6 (7-3). But Virginia's loss was sealed when Northwestern junior Linda Abu Mushrefova defeated No. 75 junior Erin Vierra in a third set, 4-6, 6-2, 6-0, to give the Wildcats the final point.

Despite the loss, the Cavaliers are still confident in their progress so far this season.

"What I told our team is that I know that we're better than we were when we won those 4-3 [matches] up in New York, but the scoreboard doesn't always show that," Guilbeau said. "They fought. Even as much as Northwestern got on top of us, we still fought and that match was still close."

Experiencing a loss, especially on such a big stage, would be a reason to be demoralized, but the Cavaliers managed to rebound in the consolation bracket Saturday with a 4-1 victory against ACC rival Georgia Tech (4-3, 0-0 ACC).

As with Friday's match, the team jumped to an early lead with strong doubles play, but this time they were able to carry the success into singles play.

"I think yesterday we were a little flat and today we needed a little more authentic energy," Hardenbergh said. "We tried to be a little more pumped up and ready for the singles, to have a good start and to be ready to have some battles."

Tomljanovic turned around her game at fourth singles, giving the Cavaliers a 2-0 lead with a strong win against the Yellow Jackets' freshman Jasmine Minor, 6-2, 6-4.

Georgia Tech managed to bring the deficit back to one point as No. 45 senior Jillian O'Neill defeated Fraser at first singles in a hard-fought 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 match. It was Fraser's first singles loss of the season, ending her five-match win streak.

Sophomore Li Xi scored a big 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 win against No. 106 senior Christina Ngo, and Hardenbergh sealed the victory with a 6-0, 6-7 (8-6), 6-4 defeat of Georgia Tech's junior Elizabeth Kilborn.

"Sometimes this dynamic can be tough, especially if you're having an off day," Hardenbergh said. "You start looking around, and seeing who can cover for you, but today I think we all took ownership of our courts."

The Cavaliers ended the tournament Sunday evening with a 4-2 loss against No. 5 Baylor. Virginia's performance mirrored Friday's outcome with a doubles sweep and early deficits in the singles matches. Baylor freshman Ema Burgic sealed the Cavaliers' fate with a 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) win on the No. 5 singles court against sophomore Caryssa Peretz.