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Magical Season Ends in MW Quarters for Women’s Tennis

by Frank Mercogliano

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The finality of the postseason hit New Mexico hard Thursday, as UNM couldn’t convert any of the top four flights despite some chances, and were eliminated from the Mountain West Tournament in the quarterfinals by No. 8 seed San Jose State 4-2.  The Spartans advance to take on No. 4 UNLV, which beat Nevada 4-2 on Thursday.

The loss almost assuredly ends UNM’s season at 19-3, and while missing out on just the fifth 20-win season in program history and the first since 1999, the .864 winning percentage is a program record, topping the .846 mark in 1997 when the team went 22-4.

The Lobos bolted to a 1-0 lead with a doubles point win.  After San Jose State took a retirement loss at No. 3 against the Vandeputte twins, UNM just needed one win and Leonie Hoppe and Katherine Jhang won 6-4 over Irena Muyadyan and Cheuk Ying Shek.

Up 1-0, the Lobos and San Jose State split the opening sets of the six matches 3-3, which should have boded well for UNM.  While San Jose State a 6-1, 6-2 win at No. 2 as Muradyan beat Sarah O’Connor, Maria Sodre answered with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Olaya Bances Iglesias.

Where the match seemingly turned with at No. 3 singles where an under-the-weather Hsuan Huang couldn’t serve out a set point at 6-5 and deuce.  In the tiebreak Huang was up a mini-break at 3-2 after a double fault, but Shek took the final five points for the 7-6 (7-3) win.

Maud Vandeputte, who had been steady at the No. 4 spot, scuffled and lost 6-1, 6-2 to Rozalina Youseva, and the match was tied at two with Jhang and Hoppe both moving to third sets after winning the openers.  Shek then outlasted Huang 6-3 in the second and the Spartans, who had lost to UNM 4-3 in the regular season, held a 3-2 lead.

Hoppe was on track and leading 4-1 but she never got to the finish line.   Up 4-3 in the second set, Carolina Millan won 12 of the next 15 points in coming from behind to take the second set. Millan, who was up 4-1 on Jhang in the first meeting in the third set before Jhang pulled off a miraculous comeback, wasn’t letting it happen again.

Jhang couldn’t hold serve and then had a change to break back with two break points to square the set back at 1-1, but Millan held.  Eventually, Millan took a 5-0 lead and served for the win, but Jhang held to make it 5-1.  Any chance at recapturing the momentum was lost when Jhang lost a love-game on serve, clinching the win for the Spartans.

While certainly not the ending UNM was hoping for, the loss doesn’t diminish the dream season that ended in the first ever regular season championship for the program.  UNM went 10-0 to open the year, 6-0 to open Mountain West play and had back-to-back-to-back Mountain West Players of the Week for the first time in program history.  Three players earned All-Mountain West honors and the team played in front of record crowds throughout the season

NOTES: Leonie Hopps finished the year with a team leading 22 singles wins, one ahead of Maud Vandeputte, who had 21 … Maria Sodre’s 24 doubles wins led the team as four Lobos (Hoppe, 23; Katherin Jhang, 22; Hsuan Huang, 21) recorded 20 doubles wins … Jhang and Hoppe led the team with 18 doubles wins as a pair … Huang finished her career with 67 doubles wins, good for 13th all-time at UNM.