If #10 Northwestern was looking for a momentum boost before conference season kicks in, they didn’t find one today. In their last non-conference match of the season, Northwestern lost 5-2 to #20 Pepperdine after falling behind early in the doubles point and not closing out crucial third sets in singles.
All three doubles pairs started off in a hole, with Pozo and Doshi the first to fall as the dropped their set 2-6 against Satsuki Takamura and Adriana Likaj. The #20 partnership of Clarissa Hand and Lee Or began with a 1-3 start against Anastasia Iamachkine and Ashley Lahey, before taking a 4-3 lead. Pepperdine’s duo won a break for 4-5, and took the winning game to give Pepperdine the doubles point. Julie Byrne and Hannah McColgan rebounded from a 1-4 start to tie their match 4-4, but their match went unfinished.
Northwestern battled in singles, but weren’t able to come up with enough third-set victories to steal the match. Pepperdine’s Dzina Milanovic added a second to Pepperdine’s tally with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Rheeya Doshi on Court #5. Every other match for Northwestern went into three sets. On Court #4, Caroline Pozo dropped her first set 3-6, but stormed out to a 3-1 advantage in the second set against Daria Kuczer. The Pepperdine freshman quickly won a break for 3-1 in the third set, and cruised to a 6-1 victory.
With one match left, Northwestern’s odds were dropping by the point. Carol Finke, fresh off her 6-0, 6-0 dismantling of Iowa, took her first set 6-3 after almost dropping a 4-0 advantage against Iamachkine, who rallied to tie the match with a 1-6 win in the second. The pair alternated break points, but it was Finke who blinked at the worst moment. With the match knotted at 4-4, Iamachkine took a 4-5 lead on a break, and won the last game for a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 win.
Lee Or picked up the ‘Cats first win against Takamura, winning 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 on Court #3. #120 Julie Byrne took a 5-2 lead in her first set against Lekaj before losing six of seven games and falling 6-7 (3-7). The two played an even second set before Lekaj took a 5-4 lead, but Byrne battled back with three games in a row to tie the match before winning the super tiebreaker 11-9.
On Court #1, #20 Clarissa Hand disappointed against #74 Lahey. Hand took the first set 7-5, but blew 3-0 and 5-4 leads despite winning three break points. Lahey won a critical point with the game square at 5-5, before taking the last match for a 7-5 win. Hand responded with another 3-0 start, but Lahey once again battled to tie the match. A visibly shaken Hand couldn’t respond to Lahey’s momentum shift, dropping three more points and six in a row to lose 3-6.
The loss adds another chapter to Northwestern’s up-and-down year, which has not seen the team win or lose more than twice in a row. The fodder of the Big Ten should be easy pickings, but against tougher challenges, the ‘Cats haven’t shown enough consistency against ranked opponents to prove they can surpass last season’s NCAA quarterfinals appearance. In their last non-conference match of the season, the team still appears ready to challenge for the Big Ten title, but questions will abound when they progress further into April and May.
Northwestern takes on Illinois at Combe Tennis Center at 5 p.m. this Friday.