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Lobos Down Wyoming 4-3, Move Within One Win of MW Title

by Frank Mercogliano

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Up a set, leading 6-5 and at deuce, Hsuan Huang had a chance to give New Mexico a win, but her winning attempt on match point sailed long.  Just under an hour later, in a third set this time, Huang again had a chance at a match point.

There was zero chance on Senior Day she was going to miss a second time.

Huang outlasted Violette Borodina in a wild match to end a nearly four-hour marathon, but Huang took a 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 7-5 win, touching off a wild and emotional celebration as New Mexico won 4-3 over Wyoming to move to within one victory of perhaps one of the more improbable Mountain West titles in UNM’s, or the Mountain West’s recent history.

The day started with a Senior Day ceremony for Huang, Leonie Hoppe, and Katherine Jhang.  That went swimmingly, but amazingly, all three lost in doubles as UNM dropped the doubles point for just the third time this season, but the second time in as many matches.

It was eerily similar to UNM’s last home match.  Jhang and Hoppe lost at No. 1 6-2, falling behind 5-0.  However, the Vandeputte twins of Maud and Bente won 7-5 leaving everything squarely on No. 2 doubles, just like the last match.

And just like the last match, No. 2 doubles went to a tiebreak.  Just like the last match, UNM saved a set point at 6-5 as this time Huang hit a touch shot that just caught the line.

UNM twice had set points at 7-6 and 8-7 but couldn’t convert.  At 8-8, it looked like UNM would go back ahead but Huang’s backhand near the net hit the top of the net and dropped on the wrong side, giving Wyoming set point for a second time, which Noesjka Brink and Nikol Dobrilova converted for a 10-8 win.

That meant UNM would need four singles wins, and the Lobos got off to a good start with five opening-set wins.  The shocker was Sarah O’Connor, facing the ITA Mountain Region champ in Brink.  O’Connor fell behind 4-0 but fought her way back to win the opening set 7-5.

The only loss in the opening set was at No. 6 where Maria Sodre lost the first three games to Dobrilova, then won the next three, then lost the final three for a 6-3 loss.

Only Leonie Hoppe and Maud Vandeputte could convert their opening set wins into straight-set wins.  Hoppe won over Lucia Malinak 6-4, 6-2, her eighth straight win and her 13th in the last 14 matches.

Vandeputte won 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) to give UNM a 2-1 lead, and making her 12-4 in her last 16.

Sodre, who lost her first set, bounced back nicely for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win to put UNM up 3-1, needing just one of the final three matches for the win.

That’s when Huang dropped her tiebreaker 7-2 after missing out on match point.

From there, it felt like fortunes were won or lost on three matches being played on three consecutive courts.

O’Connor eventually lost 5-7, 7-5, 6-1 to Brink, and Sophie Zehender defeated Jhang 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 6-3 to even things at 3-3 with Huang’s match tied at 4-4.  At 40-40, Huang forced Borodina long to go up a break 5-4, but Borodina got the break right back, and the match was tied 5-5.  Huang turned in a third straight break for a 6-5 lead, and at 30-30, she hit a shot at Borodina’s feet that she could do nothing with, giving her two match points.

This time she needed just the one, forcing Borodina long and touching off the wild celebration.

The win puts UNM at 18-2 on the season, equalling the best 20-match start in school history, and 7-1 in the Mountain West.  San Diego State won 4-0 over Fresno State on Sunday to move to 7-1, meaning a UNM win over Air Force on Friday morning would clinch at least a share of the Mountain West title.  San Diego State travels to UNLV on Friday, and a win for SDSU would give them a share of the title and the No. 1 seed in the Mountain West Tournament.

NOTES:  Hoppe won her team-leading 22nd singles match of the season … Maud Vandeputte won her 20th match of the season … UNM moved to 2-1 this season when losing the doubles point.