NEW ORLEANS – Northwestern State dug its way out of an early hole in singles play Saturday in the Southland Conference Tournament semifinals, but the New Jersey Institute of Technology found its kick late and ended the Lady Demons’ season in a 4-3 NSU loss.
Needing to win one of the final two singles matches, No. 1 seed NSU (15-5) could not finish either of its three-set conflicts as No. 4 NJIT (12-7) claimed the final two points.
NJIT’s Sandra Dzhambazov won the final four games from Mariella Minetti in the third set (2-6, 7-5, 6-2) at the No. 3 slot to tie the overall score at 3-3.
Then NJIT’s Aya El Sayed clinched the match by taking the final three games in the third set (5-7, 6-4, 6-3) on the top court, besting NSU’s Rozalie Dohnalova.
“NJIT deserves a lot of credit, and the difference today was they played the important points a little more brave than us,” said NSU coach Jonas Brobeck. “In a 50-50 match, it can be decided by one or two points, and they played to win.
“We came out on the good side in similar matches like against Louisiana Tech, but today, it’s unfortunate that we came out on the wrong side. We’ve had such a great year, and our girls competed their hearts out.”
Dohnalova faced a daunting deficit in the first set only to pull out a 7-5 win before falling in the next two sets.
Ayu Ishibashi (No. 4) and Viktorie Wojcikova (No. 5) performed similar comebacks in the first set and provided NSU with its two singles points.
Ishibashi’s 7-6, 6-2 win against Joleta Budiman boosted the Lady Demons to a 2-1 score.
The Highlanders retied the score 2-2 as No. 2 Amira Badawi dealt Tjasa Klevisar and 6-2, 6-4 loss.
Wojcikova needed a comeback tiebreaker win 7-6 in the first set before handling NJIT’s Advaita Saravanan 6-3 in the second set to put NSU one point away from the championship match at 3-2.
But the Highlanders snatched the final two points to advance to that championship match in their first-ever SLC Tournament, where they will face No. 2 seed Texas A & M-Corpus Christi on Sunday.
NSU had a familiar start to Saturday’s match, winning its 11thth straight doubles point.
Wojcikova / Dohnalova snagged a 6-2 win against Saravanan and Badawi before Polanska / Ishibashi clinched the point with a 6-4 win.
“We played a high level in doubles and set the tone with our tennis,” Brobeck said. “But NJIT continued to compete and problem solve, and they were able to turn around a few of those singles matches.”
NJIT took the first singles point on No. 6 as Shalom Salvi produced a 6-2, 6-2 result against Patryjca Polanska.
The lone senior Polanska is the only player not returning from a roster that featured three freshmen and four sophomores.
That youth didn’t hinder NSU in its pursuit of the program’s second perfect record in the SLC as the Lady Demons went 6-0 in league play by a combined score of 35-7. NSU claimed its fifth SLC regular season title.
NSU did not face the Highlanders in the regular season, who topped UIW and lost to AMCC in their only two SLC matches in the regular season.
“In a couple of days, I know we’ll look back and be proud of ourselves,” Brobeck said. “We won the regular season as undefeated champions.
“The margin between winning and losing is so small. We were glad we could send our senior (Polanska) out as a regular season champion.”
Wojcikova and Ishibashi each extended their singles winning streaks to 10 matches to end the season while Minetti’s 10-match streak ended Saturday.
The pairing of Dohnalova / Wojcikova won 12 straight doubles matches.
With her singles win Saturday, Wojcikova (15-3, .833) tied the NSU record for most wins at No. 5 in a season and with the third-best winning percentage.
Ishibashi’s 14 wins is the second-best total for a freshman with the third-best winning percentage (.875).
As a team, NSU’s .750 winning percentage (15-5) ties its best since 2014 (18-6 in 2019), and the 15 overall wins is tied for eighth-most in program history.
The Lady Demons’ 10-match winning streak after Friday’s SLU win was the third-longest in program history.