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Lobos Tie Best MW Start with 4-3 Win Over Gonzaga

by Frank Mercogliano

SPOKANE, Wash. — In a wild match with swings back-and-forth, Katherine Jhang bounced back from dropping her second set to post back-to-back service breaks for a  match-clinching 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 victory as New Mexico ran its season-opening winning streak to 4-0 with a harrowing 4-3 win over host Gonzaga.

UNM has one more match in Spokane on the road trip, taking on Eastern Washington on Sunday at 9:30 am Mountain Time.

The Lobos earned a key point in doubles, sweeping a pair of matches to open with a 1-0 lead.  Hsuan Huang and Maria Sodre didn’t have an issue with No. 2 doubles, posting a methodic 6-2 win over Tiegan Aitken and Brooke Bittner to give UNM the opening leg.

From that it was a race to see which doubles pairing would clinch the point as Jhang and Leonie Hoppe were up 5-4 at No. 1 and the Vandeputte twins, Maud and Bente, were also up 5-4 at No. 3.  It was Jhang and Hoppe finishing first, giving UNM a 1-0 lead.

That was important as UNM and Gonzaga split the opening six first sets with Jhang, Huang and Bente Vandeputte winning theirs.

Gonzaga made it 1-1 when Emily Robertson finished off a 6-3, 6-3 win at No. 1 singles over Sarah O’Connor, but Huang finished almost immediately after that, winning at No. 3 singles over Aitken 6-2, 6-2.  Bente Vandeputte was able to make it 3-1 with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Lia Espinal at No. 6 singles, but the match was still very much in doubt.

Jhang couldn’t win in straight sets as Oda Kianna took the second set 6-4, but Maud Vandeputte put on a second-set clinic late, with three straight laser beam passing shots, the last of which gave her a 7-5 second set win, and Leonie Hoppe bounced back in her second set to match the 6-2 first set with a 6-2 win over her own, and the match would hinge on a third-set somewhere down the line.

Hoppe was the first to finish, suffering a cruel fate at 5-4 40-40 when she was broken as her passing shot was ruled out-of-bounds, although the video looked like the ball was well in.  That gave Caroline Wernli a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 win and that made it 3-2 Gonzaga.

The Zags had the lead at No. 4 singles as Ella Nielsen raced out to a 4-1 lead over Maud Vandeputte, and it got dicey when Jhang was up a break at 3-1, but serving down 15-40.  She was able to hold serve as Kianna hit a solid forehand long, moving her to 4-1.  Jhang then got a break to go up 5-1 and was serving for the match, against falling behind 15-40.

As Nielsen put the finishing touches 6-2 in the third on Vandeputte to tie things at 3-3, Jhang hit a cross-court winner and then Kianna was wide to give her match point.  There, Jhang came in on a drop shot and raced to the net only for Kianna to hit a wicked passing shot in a narrow lane for a match-saving break of her own.

It only delayed the inevitable.  Jhang jumped out to a love-40 lead and had four shots at a match-winning break.  Her first two chances she put long, but on the third she hit a nasty cross-court shot that Kianna could barely get to, sending it well wide, touching off a happy celebration for the Lobos as Jhang won 7-5, 4-6, 6-2.

The win moved UNM to 4-0 on the season for the first time since starting 4-0 in 2007 under the legendary Kathy Kolankiewicz.  UNM with a win over Eastern Washington would move to 5-0 for the first time since starting 12-0 in 1998, prior to the existence of the Mountain West.