April 29, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Purdue women's tennis team rallied from down 3-2 to win its first ever Big Ten Tournament Championship on Saturday. With the team score tied at three and Lynda Xepoleas trailed 6-5 in the third set, the freshman stepped up in a big way to bring home the title to West Lafayette.
"I think today we all came out with nothing to lose and believed in ourselves," Xepoleas said after winning the championship. "In the end, that made all the difference and there's no better feeling than sending our seniors home with our program's first Big Ten Title!"
The day began much in the same as it ended, with a tiebreak. Purdue struck first in doubles as its No. 2 team of Xepoleas and Daniela Vidal put up an 8-1 win over Michelle Sulahain and Mimi Nguyen. Michigan came back with a close win at No. 3 to tie the score. Kristen Dodge and Sarah Lee beat Imogen Golder and Gisella Pere, 8-5. The point rested on the match at No. 1 and the score was tied 8-8. From there, the No. 10 duo in the nation of Brooke Bolender and Emina Bektas knocked off Jennifer Rabot and Mara Schmidt in the tiebreak, 7-0, to win 9-8 and give Michigan the point.
Purdue didn't take long to tie the score in singles. After the Boilermakers won four of the six first sets, Pere continued her hot streak with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Dodge at No. 6. Then, Schmidt gave Purdue its first lead with a win at No. 3. The sophomore took down Lee, 6-1, 6-3. Michigan would answer. No. 121 in the country Nguyen topped Vidal, 6-3, 6-2, to even the score at two.
The Wolverines clawed within a point of victory with a win at No. 1. Rabot played strong tennis for the Boilermakers, but the senior couldn't quite pull off the upset as No. 12 in the nation Bektas won in three sets, 6-1, 3-6, 6-0. Purdue again would answer. Golder rallied back from a second set slipup to win over Sulahain, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2. That meant the match would be decided at No. 2 where Xepoleas was in a third set with the nation's No. 85 player Bolender.
“I realized the match was going to come down to me when I got to the third set," said Xepoleas. "I figured it would come down to me when I saw Imogen (Golder) winning her match, so I knew I had to keep it close and see if she (Bolender) would break down.”
Xepoleas had jumped out to a set lead after topping the Wolverine, 6-3, in the first. However, Bolender responded in the second with a 6-4 win of her own to force the deciding set. There, Bolender jumped out to a 2-0 lead which gave Michigan full momentum. However, the Purdue freshman showed incredible poise and responded by winning three straight games and take a 3-2 lead. From there, the two traded games and Bolender had a 6-5 lead putting Xepoleas on the ropes. The Huntington Beach, Calif., native didn't waiver a bit. She responded by winning the next game to force a tiebreaker with the conference championship on the line.
“I started the set off shaky in the third. I was nervous,” Xepoleas said. “I wasn’t feeling too great, but I came back and knew if I stayed close that I’d be able to hang in there on the big points and maybe be able to push through. I felt that as long as I could keep it within one or two games that I’d be fine. When we got to the tiebreaker I knew I was seven points away either way. I told myself ‘this is it. This is my one chance, especially as a freshman.’ I embraced the moment and I'm happy that I came through.”
Xepoleas went shot for shot with Bolender as tension built around the match. Finally, Xepoleas came out victorious, 7-5, in the tiebreaker to bring home the first conference title to Purdue. Michigan has now lost two conference tournament championship matches in a row.
“It was pretty cool when the team ran out to congratulate me," the freshman said. "We all jumped up and down and it was that surreal moment that you dream about. When it actually comes, you can’t describe it. It is an amazing feeling that every athlete dreams of, just really awesome.”
"I'm really proud of the girls," assistant coach Roberto Aspillaga said after the win. "They have worked really hard all year long and all they needed was one big win to realize that they are capable of great things. They were decisive and kept cool heads all the way through. This team deserves every little bit of this tremendous achievement that they have accomplished."
"I am so proud of the way this team competed! To beat one top 20 team is good, but to beat three top twenty teams in a row is phenomenal," head coach Laura Glitz said of the win. "The team has worked so hard and I am glad their hard work has paid off in a big way."
Purdue will return home and await its NCAA Tournament fate. The Boilermakers earn the automatic bid from the Big Ten Conference. The selections will take place early in the week. Check back for quotes from coaches and players of the Big Ten Champion Purdue Boilermakers.