The manner in which IU lost Sunday is tougher to grapple with than the loss itself.
IU and Notre Dame were tied 3-3, and the third set of the No. 4 singles was going to decide the dual.
It was between IU Senior Xiwei Cai and Notre Dame freshman Cameron Corse. Cai won the first set in a tiebreaker, 7-6, and Corse grabbed the second set, 6-1.
All eyes in the Eck Tennis Pavilion were on Cai and Corse.
Cai came out on fire, holding a 5-1 advantage over her opponent.
It appeared Cai not only took the fight out of her opponent, but also the Irish crowd.
A match point was all that stood between IU’s first victory over Notre Dame since 2015.
The Hoosiers had it. Until they didn’t.
Desperately trying to make something happen, Corse started playing more aggressively at the net. Corse’s net presence put her in a position to crush unreturnable overheads.
The Notre Dame team and crowd got louder with every game Corse inched closer to Cai.
“She used the crowd and momentum to her favor,” IU Coach Ramiro Azcui said. “She started swinging away. When you are down like that, you have nothing to lose. Give her credit, she started swinging and making things happen.”
Corse won six straight games, and clinched the match for Notre Dame.
However, IU put itself in a position to win from the start of the match.
Junior Caitlin Bernard and freshman Jelly Bozovic won 6-3 and freshman Michelle McKamey and junior Madison Appel clinched the doubles point, winning 6-4.
IU then needed three singles victories compared to Notre Dame’s four.
Notre Dame briefly tied the match at one all when junior Rachel Chong defeated McKamey 6-1, 6-4.
IU reclaimed a 2-1 lead after Bernard took down sophomore Zoe Spence 6-3, 1-6, 6-1.
Junior Natalie Whalen lost to senior Allison Miller 6-3, 6-3, and shortly after her teammate’s loss, Bozovic dropped her match to freshman Ally Bojczuk 6-3, 2-6, 6-2.
Appel’s first career singles win over Notre Dame could not have come at a more crucial moment. With a 3-2 lead, Notre Dame had the edge.
Appel beat senior Brooke Broda 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 to even the score at three and keep IU’s hopes of victory alive.
Appel clenched her fist and yelled “C’mon,” as she looked over to her teammates celebrating her win.
Azcui said Appel’s win did not surprise him because he is very confident in her.
“She is believing in what she does every day in practice, and she’s been working constantly to get better,” Azcui said. “She’s really stepping up for us and doing all the right things.”
Appel remains undefeated in singles in dual match play, improving her record to 8-0.
Bozovic and McKamey, who were undefeated until losing against Tennessee last weekend, dropped their second straight singles matches.
Azcui said there are little details that need to be fixed, and they will use these losses as a way to get better.
The freshmen have been asked to step up right away, and of course, there are growing pains to go along with that.
Overall, Azcui is proud of the way his team competed in a tough environment on its first road trip of the season.
“Our job as coaches is to get our players fired up again,” Azcui said. “They competed their hearts out, and that’s all you can you ask for. We are gonna continue to be tested. Sometimes, this is just the way it goes.”
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