Open Announce
Johnny Tibbetts Graphic Illustration

HISTORY MADE!!!! Women's Tennis Win First Regular Season Title

by Frank Mercogliano

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — You know those sports movies where a team somehow finds itself winning an improbable title?  Well if you sent in New Mexico’s season as a script back in January, there wouldn’t have been a Hollywood producer buying it.

The laugh is on everyone else now.

The New Mexico Lobos defeated Air Force 4-0 on Friday afternoon, April 19 at 1:48 p.m. Mountain Time to win the first outright Mountain West regular season championship in program history.  Maud Vandeputte, who just one swing earlier stopped all her momentum to return a shot into the deep backhand of her opponent, hit a forehard winner down the line, releasing a primal scream that punctuated what was at the time at least a share of the conference title.

Exactly 10 minutes later, there was no sharing of anything as UNLV served out a 4-3 win over San Diego State to give UNM not just a championship, but the outright title and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Mountain West Tournament.  The Lobos had never earned the league’s No. 1 seed in program history, even in the 2015 season when UNM won the Mountain West Tournament title as the league’s No. 2 seed.

For UNM, the formula was basically what has worked all season, sweep the doubles point with wins at Nos. 1 and 2 and then methodically put a team away with three singles wins.  UNM’s top two doubles teams won their matches within seconds of each other as Hsuan Huang and Maria Sodre won 6-2 and Leonie Hoppe and Katherine Jhang won 6-3.

That gave UNM a 1-0 lead, and the match moved to singles with just the four availabile indoor courts at Air Force. That probably worked to UNM’s advantage because that meant regardless of what was going on, Leonie Hoppe wouldn’t have her match start until someone finished.  Hoppe has been on a heater, winning eight straight matches and 13 of 14, so it’s sort of like winning Game 1 of the World Series and knowing you have a Cy Young winner going in Game 6.

With UNM up 1-0, the Lobos took opening sets at Nos. 2, 3 and 4 with Huang finishing off her match in straight sets over Alexis Odom 6-3, 6-3 to make it 2-0.  UNM then stumbled as  Vandeputte and Sarah O’Connor lost their second sets, pushing them into a third.  While that was happening, Katherin Jhang rebounded from her opening set loss at 6-1 with a 6-3 win, and all three matches from the original pairings went to third sets.

Additionally, Hoppe moved onto her court and immediately took the first set with a 6-2 win there, helpful as both Jhang and Vandeputte fell behind 5-3.  Both however turned it around.  Jhang fought back to move into a tiebreak, and she took a mini-break to go up 4-2, then won the final three points for a 7-3 win and more importantly gave UNM a 3-0 lead.  Then it was Vandeputte’s turn as O’Connor moved ahead 3-1 in her third set.

Maud was down 5-3, and still down 5-4 before tying things.  After holding at 6-5, she got to 30-40 after her opponent Isabella Flodin hit long.  That gave UNM championship point, and Vandeputte did not let it pass.  It looked for certain that Flodin had moved things to deuce when she hit a ball to Vandeputte’s backhand with Maud moving the other way, but she was able to stop and flick a backhand over the charging Flodin, who hit it right into Vandeputte’s forehand.  She crushed it, hammering it hard down the line, seemingly venting 25 years of regular season near misses, close calls, and not-so-close calls into one blazing forehand passing shot.

From there, a guttural scream, handshakes with Flodin a team celebration, and plenty of photos with the Mountain West trophy.  New Mexico will not play until the Mountain West quarterfinals when the team will take on the winner of the 8-9 game, San Jose State and Boise State.  UNM won 4-3 at San Jose State and 4-2 at Boise State earlier this year.

NOTES: Vandeputte extended her career-high in singles wins to 21 … Huang’s doubles win was her 65th all-time … Huang’s singles win was her fifth in a row … UNM’s 19-2 record is tied for the best in program history after 21 matches.

Maud Vandeputte puts her name next to Natasha Smith with clinching victories for UNM in Mountain West championship winning matches