With a duo of matches at home in Milwaukee, the Panthers tennis team began with a tough loss to league leading Youngstown State, 1-6. The Panthers battled the next day to claim a victory over Cleveland State for the first time in program history taking the battle 4-3.
Beginning their weekend Saturday morning at Elite River Glen, the Panthers started the match by relinquishing the doubles point to the Youngstown State Penguins, who won both matches 6-4 to earn the point. The final doubles match went unfinished.
After losing the doubles point, the Panthers continued to be behind the entire matchup. At the fifth singles spot, senior Christina Colarossi picked up the only singles win for the Panthers, a convincing 6-0, 6-2 over YSU’s Julianna Heino.
“Christina, our senior, who has proven her willingness to grind through matches time and time again, had a great win and is really demonstrating her experience and leadership in all these matches,” Milwaukee head coach Maddy Soule said.
Milwaukee didn’t go down without several fights from sophomore Alysa Straub and freshman Mardee Merar. Straub, competing for the fourth flight, started her match with YSU’s Nehel Sahni very closely before Sahni edged out Straub for the first set tiebreak. Straub held her nerve, and after being down a break in the second set not once, but three times, did she manage to force a second set tiebreak. This time Straub claimed it convincingly, 7 points to 3. The final set match tiebreak followed the same unrelenting pattern, with Straub ultimately falling 10 points to 8.
Merar started off her match at the sixth spot by earning her first set 6-4 after several struggles. Merar couldn’t keep the pace going, however, and YSU’s Sofia Mendoza took the second set 6-3, also sending the match into a third set match tiebreak. This ended up being extended, with Merar falling 11 points to 9 after long fought tiebreak. The Panthers’ top three flights all fell in straight sets, allowing the Penguins to claim the win over the Panthers.
“We knew going into the match YSU was going to be a really strong competitor. Although we lost today, I believe it was different than other losses because we were simply beaten by the better team,” said Soule.
Returning to the courts Sunday morning at Elite North Shore, the Panthers took on the Cleveland State Vikings.
The match started out tense, for each of the three doubles matches stayed close, with each one eventually entering a tiebreak to decide them. Sophomore Hayley Marshall and senior Chelsea Bailey were the first to finish, claiming their tiebreak convincingly, 7 points to 2. The third flight team of Merar and junior Dana Shannon won theirs shortly after, 8 points to 6, giving Milwaukee the doubles point to lead the Vikings 1-0.
Adjusting to singles play, the Panthers expanded their lead quickly. Merar was the first to finish, claiming a 6-2, 6-2 win, shortly followed by Colarossi by the same score line to give Milwaukee a 3-0 lead. “Today was a tough win. At one point there seemed to be a lot of certainty that we would win after we won the doubles point and 4-6 singles were up a set. We improved our lead to 3-0 and excitement was resonating,” said Soule.
But Cleveland State would find their way back into the match. Sophomore Aerielle Pendleton, playing in the third spot, was quickly down in her match, losing the first set 1-6 to CSU’s Victoria Bensimon. Pendleton played a closer second set, was unable to do any damage, dropping the second set 4-6. At the second flight, Marshall struggled against her opponent, Ellen Folkers, falling in the first set 3-6. Marshall was able to find her way into a second set tiebreak, but fell quickly 7 points to 3. Straub began her match off convincingly, attaining a score line of 6-4, 5-5. But fatigue from the previous day’s epic began to set in, and Straub dropped the second set 5-7. Straub was then unable to find her way back into the final set, falling 2-6. Milwaukee and Cleveland State were 3-3.
“Soon Cleveland started making its way back as they won at the 3 spot, 2 spot and eventually the 4 spot making it 3-3. I honestly thought once those three matches were lost we didn’t have much of a chance because Chelsea Bailey at the one spot was down 5-2 in the third set.”
Bailey started similarly to Straub, claiming her first set 6-3 against CSU’s top player, Mathilde Orange. Bailey was also unable to maintain her pace, dropping the second set 6 games to 3. Bailey continued to struggle with both emotions as well as an aggressive opponent, as she fell behind in the third set 5 games to 2.
“The next think I knew she got it back to 4-5, 5-5 then eventually won the set 7-5 fending off five match points along the way. The match should have never came down to her spot but it did and proud doesn’t justify how she made us all feel with the biggest come back of her career. Couldn’t have been a better time to do it.”
With Bailey closing out her top flight match, the Panthers held on to beat the rallying Vikings, 4-3. “This was the first time in Panther history that we took down CSU and things are looking great as we near the conference tournament. I’m extremely proud of the wins we were able to attain today,” Soule said.
With the split matches over the home weekend, the Panthers now are (6-14) overall and remain in fourth place in the Horizon League at (4-3). Milwaukee will end their regular season against their final Horizon League opponent, Wright State, Saturday afternoon in Milwaukee.