May 25, 2009

Top Chicago pair wins NCAA doubles title

First-year Kendra Higgins and second-year Chrissy Hu were unseeded when they entered this year’s NCAA D-III Women’s Tennis Doubles Championships, but after Sunday afternoon’s final, the pair has emerged as National Champions.

After advancing past three other teams to reach the title match, Higgins and Hu upset the top-seeded pair of Siobhan Finicane and Olivia Muesse of Pomona-Pitzer, 6–1, 6–3, to win the championship.

“We came in knowing it was going to be a tough match, and we really brought it today,” Hu said. “We knew what we had to do. We had to come out hitting, we had to be aggressive, and once we pushed them against the wall, they got scared, I think, so we were able to put them away.”

In their first year together, Higgins and Hu entered the tournament with a 13–6 record, with only three of those losses coming against D-III opponents. Even after a strong season at the one doubles position for Chicago—which finished fourth in last week’s team championships—head coach Marty Perry expected the two to show some nerves on D-III tennis’ biggest stage.

“I thought if they played well and could handle the nervousness that sometimes comes with playing in the NCAA tournament, they had a shot to win it, and that turned out to be true,” Perry said. “They had nerves, typical nervousness…. Once they got that first win against Mary Washington—and they faced some adversity there—and then against DePauw in next round, once they got over the nerves of that DePauw match yesterday, they were pretty much unstoppable today.”

The pair played two three-set matches in the tournament, both of them coming in the first two rounds. Mary Washington’s combo of Kate Malpeli and Rebecca Morse-Karzen—one of just two D-III teams to have beaten Hu and Higgins this year—pushed Chicago’s team to three sets before falling 6–4, 4–6, 6–2, in the opening round. Two more familiar opponents, DePauw’s Greer Mackie and Kayla Smith, met Higgins and Hu in the quarterfinals, where the Maroons’ pair won 6–1, 4–6, 7–6 (11–9).

After defeating Carnegie’s Laura Chen and Ashley Herrick for the second time in six days Sunday morning—this time winning 6–2, 6–1, Higgins and Hu moved into the championship round, where they again won the first set 6–1.

“At first, we were a little nervous, sometimes a little tight, but we knew we had nothing to lose,” Higgins said. “We did that well in the finals today; playing against the number-one seed, you have to be really aggressive. You have to take chances—especially on this big stage—you have to take chances to get to the places you want to be.”

Chicago maintained control in the second set, and after Hu clinched the win with a shot that brought the count to 6–1, 6–3, the celebration ensued.

“At first, we didn’t say anything,” Higgins said. “Nobody said anything, and then we just ran up to each other and hugged each other…. It was surreal.”

The win marks just the ninth individual championship in school history—the first ever in Chicago tennis history—and it’s the first since track brought home two titles in 2004.