ATHENS, Ga. – Memorial Day 2017 will be a memorable one for Ohio State’s Francesca Di Lorenzo and Miho Kowase, as they claimed the program's first NCAA championship, winning the doubles title on Monday in Athens, Georgia.
The Buckeyes dropped the opening set to the No. 5 ranked team of Maddie Pothoff and Erin Routliffe of Alabama but rallied to win the second 6-4 and then took the upper hand midway through the super breaker and clinched the title with a 10-7 victory.
“It’s pretty amazing, especially for Miho to end her career like this,” Di Lorenzo said. “She deserves it more than anybody else. She’s an unbelievable player, and I wouldn’t want to do this with anybody else especially because this is an unbelievable place to do it. For Miho to come back here and for us to be able to win it together feels incredible.”
For Kowase, ending her career in Athens with a title had a little extra meaning. Her sister Maho, who is the winningest player in Georgia women’s tennis history with a combined 245 singles and doubles victories, also ended her career in the NCAA doubles final at Dan McGill Tennis Complex in 2014. In that match, she fell coincidentally to a team from Alabama. Miho was in the stands that day and now three years later, she found herself with a chance for redemption.
“It feels amazing, I still can’t believe it,” Kowase said. “Three years ago I watched my sister lose her last match here against Alabama. And I thought to myself, ‘I want revenge.’ Here I am three years later winning it.”
The Buckeyes fell behind an early break in the first but recovered with a big break to even the opening set at 5-5. After a pair of holds, the teams went to a tiebreaker where they found themselves on serve at 5-4 after two Buckeye holds. Pothoff and Routliffe then won four of the next five points to take the tiebreak 8-6.
“I think we let go of the nerves we had starting out,” Di Lorenzo said. “At the beginning, our footwork was off and we were playing tight tennis, which is never good. They were serving really well and we were getting frustrated, so once we calmed down and took it point by point, doing what we really do best, we started executing much better.”
In the second, Di Lorenzo and Kowase won the first two games only to see the Bama duo pull even by winning the next two. At 3-3, the Buckeyes won a big break point to take a 4-3 lead and would hold serve in the next two games to take the set 6-4.
In the super-tiebreak, the Buckeyes kept the momentum and won the first three points. But again, the Bama pair was able to fight back and eventually took a 6-5 lead and was serving. That’s when the Buckeyes took control by winning both points on the Alabama serve and then Kowase hit a big backhand winner down the line to give the Buckeyes three match points at 9-6. Bama was able to hold off one match point but a huge service return from Di Lorenzo forced a long return from the Crimson Tide and the Buckeyes won the national title.
“They are great teammates. They work so hard and remain discipline,” said head coach Melissa Schaub on what made Di Lorenzo and Kowase successful this week. “This is a testament to how they take care of themselves. Most teams by this point in the tournament are running on fumes and I still felt like they had a lot left in the tank. I think after a heartbreaking end to the team season and then Francesca losing early in the singles tournament, this was a great way for them to finish. Especially for Miho being a senior. I know Francesca has a lot of respect for her and I know it meant a lot for her to send Miho out the way she deserves to be sent out.”
The win was not only the first national title for Di Lorenzo and Kowase but it was also a big win for the program that is continuing its rise on the national stage.
The doubles team of Di Lorenzo/Kowase (Ohio State) is your NCAA Doubles Champion.#NCAATennis— NCAA Tennis (@NCAATennis) May 29, 2017
“This win means so much and we can’t be more excited to bring a trophy back to Columbus,” Schaub said. “The players have an unbelievable amount of pride in who they play for. I know this is an individual tournament but they are yelling Go Bucks and they aren’t just doing it for themselves but everyone in the program. This means a lot of us going forward and I couldn’t be happier for the two of them. We had a great season and this is a great way to finish it off.”
Kowase and Di Lorenzo finished their season with a record of 23-1. For Kowase, she finishes her career with 213 career singles and doubles victories and is just the second Buckeyes with more than 100 singles and more than 100 doubles victories.