The USF women’s tennis team battled through injuries and a 3-1 deficit to claim its first Big East Conference title Sunday. The Bulls beat defending champion Notre Dame, which eliminated USF in last year’s final.
The Bulls fell behind early in the contest, losing the doubles point. The Bulls showed resiliency and determination in singles play to beat the No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament.
Junior Courtney Vernon gave USF its first point, defeating Christian Thompson in straight sets 6-1, 6-1.
Playing in the No. 3 position, freshman Jessica Sweeting lost in straight sets to Notre Dame’s Colleen Rielley 6-1, 6-3. Playing at No. 4, USF’s junior Liz Cruz lost to Kelcy Tefft in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3. The losses gave Notre Dame a 3-1 lead.
Playing at No. 1, senior Shadisha Robinson fought through a pulled muscle in her back to give USF its second point of the match. She beat Catrina Thompson in three sets, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1.
“My back was in so much pain I couldn’t even feel it,” Robinson said. “I just blocked it out of my head. Winning was more important to me than the pain.”
Senior Gabriela Duch, playing at No. 5 for the Bulls, won a three-set thriller against Cosmina Ciobanu, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Senior Gabriela Duch
With the score tied 3-3, sophomore Iciri Rai was the last Bull standing. Rai and Notre Dame’s Katie Potts split the first two sets, leaving the tournament to be decided by the No. 6 players. After taking a 4-2 lead, Rai dropped three games in a row to fall behind 4-5 in the set.
After claiming two games in a row and needing just two points for the title, Rai’s leg began to cramp. She needed to take a timeout, and was assisted by trainers for the allotted five minutes. After getting up, Rai claimed the final two points, and won the deciding match 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.
“I had the same thing happen to me in a deciding match last year,” said Rai. “I know that this match was way bigger than that, so I had to play through it. It feels amazing to win for the team.”
Coach Agustin Moreno was thrilled by the play of his team.
“I am very proud of the way we played today,” Moreno said. “This team battled through a lot, and won matches when they mattered most. This is a great team.”The Bulls’ title is the first Big East conference championship USF has won in any sport. They earned it by defeating nationally ranked No. 2 Notre Dame. The conference title also gives USF an automatic bid to play in the NCAA Tournament, its seventh appearance overall.”Tomorrow we are going to begin working for the NCAA Tournament,” Moreno said. “Tonight, we are going to celebrate.”