May 8, 2009

Courtesy of Sacramento State Athletics

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The No. 58 ranked Sacramento State women’s tennis team came close to earning its first ever NCAA Tournament win before falling to No. 17 ranked Michigan by a score of 4-2 on Friday, May 8, at the Courtney Tennis Center.

With the loss, the Hornets finish their season 19-9, while the Wolverines improve to 18-6, and will take on the winner of Notre Dame and UIC in the second round.

Michigan took a 1-0 lead early in the match, as they secured the doubles point by winning the top two matches in the order by scores of 8-3 and 8-4. Junior Aileen Tsan and freshman Maria Meliuk were leading 6-5 at No. 3 against Lindsey Howard and Denise Muresan before that match was stopped due to the two others matches finishing.

Sacramento State fell behind 2-0 once singles play began, as Meliuk, who is battling a back injury that forced her to miss the Big Sky Tournament, fell in straight sets to No. 105 ranked Rika Tatsuno at No. 2 singles.

The Hornets then pulled to within one point at 2-1 as senior Joyce Martinez Gutierrez made quick work of the Wolverines’ Michelle Sulahian at the No. 6 position, 6-0, 6-2. Martinez Gutierrez, a native of Azitapan, Mexico, finished her final campaign in the Green and Gold with a 19-6 record in singles play, and posted her first career NCAA singles victory.

After Michigan was victorious at No. 3 singles to take a 3-1 lead, the Hornets once again pulled within one point, 3-2, as 2008 All-American Katrina Zheltova defeated No. 63 ranked Chisako Sugiyama, 6-4, 6-4 at No. 1 singles. Zheltova, a junior from Minsk, Belarus who is the three-time defending Big Sky MVP, was tied 4-4 in the second set with Sugiyama before taking home the victory.

Drama began to build in the final two matches, as senior Luba Schifris took the first set over Whitney Taney at No. 4 singles 7-6 (10-8) to give the Hornets a strong chance to pick up their third point. More drama came at the No. 5 position, as after falling in her first set, redshirt freshman Clarisse Baca came back from a 5-2 deficit to take a 6-5 lead over Tania Mahtani in the second set. Mahtani recovered after losing four straight games and being down 30-love receiving serve to tie the set at 6-6 and force the tiebreak. In the tiebreak, Baca fought hard, but fell 7-4 to give Michigan the 4-2 victory. While the tiebreaker was occurring, Schifris had taken a 3-2 lead in the second set before her match was halted.

“We had our chances to win, but fell a little bit short,” Sacramento State director of tennis Bill Campbell said following the match. “Our seniors played really well, as Joyce won and Luba was winning her match. It was a nice way for them to go out.”

An upset by the Hornets would have been the Wolverines first loss to a team ranked outside of the top 20 this season. Four of their six losses have come at the hands of teams ranked in the top ten, with two of those losses being to No. 1 Northwestern.

The Hornets will have one player, Katrina Zheltova, compete in the NCAA Women’s Tennis Singles Championships from May 20-25 at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center in College Station, Texas. Zheltova earned her All-American status last season by making the round of 16 in the tournament, posting upsets in the first and second rounds. She holds an overall 3-2 record in her career at the championship.