Lofty dreams of a third Big Sky championship were realized for the Idaho women’s tennis team Saturday.
After defeating Montana 4-1, the Vandals cruised to the championship, where they overcame Northern Arizona 4-3. In the finals, senior Claire Yang won the deciding match, putting an end to her collegiate career with four conference championships.
Against the Bobcats, Idaho got off to a rocky start. Montana State snatched the doubles point early, with Yang and freshman Shion Watabe falling 6-4 to their opponents.
Junior Lucia Badillos earned the Vandals’ first point of the tournament. Tavares followed up with a 6-0, 6-3 win on court No. 4, putting Idaho up 2-1. Sophomore Marianna Petrei came through on court No. 1 with a 7-5, 6-1 victory and Watabe finished the match after winning a tight contest against Wanda Holopainen.
The next day, the Vandals set their sights on bringing another trophy back to Moscow.
In the championship match, Idaho looked as if it would again drop the doubles point following a loss by Yang and Watabe. However, freshman Jessica Brzozowska and sophomore Maria Tavares pulled Idaho back from the brink of an early deficit. The final point came down to a tiebreaker. Petrei and Badillos teamed up to defeat Northern Arizona’s Chiara Tomasetti and Blanka Szavay 7-6.
“We won a tough doubles point, which was very important for us,” said head coach Babar Akbar said in a news release. “That doubles point proved to be very decisive. It was an important win.”
In singles, Petrei extended the Vandals’ lead with an easy 6-1, 6-1 victory on court No. 1.
The Lumberjacks refused to go quietly, winning the next match on the third court, where Badillos fell to Szavay 6-3, 6-1.
Tavares kept her team above water, earning a narrow win over Brandy Walker. Tavares jumped out to an early lead in the first set, but Walker evened the score in the second. The two battled it out in the third set, eventually reaching a tie breaker that Tavares won 7-5.
Northern Arizona went on to steal the next two matches, tying the score at 3-3. Watabe fell to Marta Lewandowska 6-4, 6-4 on court No. 5. Brzozowska was the next to fall on court No. 2. Chiara Tomasetti defeated the young Vandal in a tiebreaker.
Finally, all eyes turned to court No. 6, where Yang took the stage as a Vandal for the final time.
A brutal back-and-forth ensued. The first set went into a tiebreaker that Yang won. However, she lost the second set and Northern Arizona tied the score. Yang fought her way through the third, coming out on top 6-3.
“Claire showed a lot of heart,” Babar said. “She was down 3-1 in the final set. She showed a lot of heart and courage. She used her experience as a senior and was able to win it from there.”
Idaho now waits to hear of its placement in the NCAA tournament. The selection process begins May 2.
“That is what this team is about. Heart and courage,” Babar said. “The girls have earned this.”
Brandon Hill can be reached at email@example.com