SACRAMENTO, Calif. – For the second time in as many seasons, Montana dashed the Northern Arizona women's tennis team's hopes of a Big Sky Championship as the Grizzlies edged out the Lumberjacks, 4-2, in a grueling conference semifinal match that featured a tiebreak win to clinch the doubles point and four three-set singles matches on Saturday. The Lumberjacks were outlasted by the Grizzlies in the semifinal round as well last season and finished the 2013 season with a 17-9 overall record.
"It was a match that you wish was a final," said director of tennis Kim Bruno. "It was well fought by both teams and everyone laid it out there. It was a championship battle. It's not the ending that we pictured coming here but we had a fantastic season and we did what we could out there. Unfortunately they beat us."
Saturday's semifinal match between the second-seeded Grizzlies and the third-seeded Lumberjacks was bound to be a nail biter and doubles play epitomized the narrow difference between the two teams from the start. After Montana won with ease at No. 1, 8-1, seniors Ghizelene Doballah and Nicole Perez won their 13th straight doubles match, 8-3, at No. 2 to give NAU its first doubles victory of the match. That set the table for the No. 3 doubles match where seniors Alice Pacaut and Malia Wahinepio were locked in a battle with Montana's Haley Driver and Precious Gbadamosi.
In the end just as they had done in 18 of their last 19 matches, Pacaut and Wahinepio found a way to come out on top when they triumphed in the tiebreaker, 9-7. The win gave the Lumberjacks the doubles win for the 13th straight match and they carried a 1-0 lead into singles competition needing three wins to move on to face top-seeded Sacramento State in Sunday's final.
However just like when the two teams faced off two weeks ago in Missoula, Mont., the Grizzlies would deny the Lumberjacks off the three necessary singles wins as Montana claimed four wins and the semifinal victory. Aside from Driver's 6-1, 6-1 win over sophomore Johanna Vang at No. 3, singles was tightly contested between the two teams. Driver's win evened the match at 1-1, but Doballah put the Lumberjacks back in front with a tough three-set win at No. 2. After dropping the first set, 3-6, Doballah battled back to win the final two sets by identical 6-1 scores in the first of four matches to go the full three sets.
The Grizzlies knotted up the match for a second time at 2-2 when Sasha Carter rallied from her own first set loss to Wahinepio at No. 4 to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. Following Ashley Mackey's 6-4, 7-5 win at No. 6, the Lumberjacks found themselves on the brink of elimination. At No. 5, the Grizzlies would end the Lumberjacks' season when Gbadamosi knocked off Pacaut in three sets, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2. At the time the match was clinched, sophomore Hannah Stone was one game from claiming a three-set victory at No. 1.
The team's five seniors – Doballah, Pacaut, Perez, Wahinepio and Alice Walker – might have seen their careers come to a stunning end on Saturday but they leave as the 2013 NAU women's tennis season goes down as one of the greatest in program history. The Lumberjacks finished the season with 17 victories, tied for the second-most in program history with the 2002 team and only shy of the 20 wins the 1999 team recorded. In the process, they notched their eighth consecutive double-digit win season to set a new school record. They also a school record with 55 team doubles wins and posted the second-most team singles wins (93) in the history of the program. Perez finished her senior season with 19 singles victories this season, which equals the most by a single player in school history, while Pacaut and Wahinepio set a new single season doubles win school record with 20 as a pair. Five of the team's six players set career-highs for singles victories and it was the first time since 2008 that all six starters posted at least 10 singles wins.
"It's hard to look past today's loss because they fought so hard for four hours and gave everything they had," Bruno said. "But we have to put things into perspective and know what we accomplished. All I can ask is that they leave it all on the court and they did."
1. Heather Davidson/Laurence Pelchat (UM) def. Hannah Stone/Johanna Vang (NAU), 8-1
2. Ghizelene Doballah/Nicole Perez (NAU) def. Sasha Carter/Maddy Murray (UM), 8-3
3. Alice Pacaut/Malia Wahinepio (NAU) def. Haley Driver/Precious Gbadamosi (UM), 9-7*
*Clinched Doubles Point
Order of Finish: (1, 2, 3)
1. Davidson (UM) vs. Stone (NAU), unfinished (NAU leading 4-6, 6-3, 5-1)
2. Doballah (NAU) def. Pelchat (UM), 3-6, 6-1, 6-1
3. Driver (UM) def. Vang (NAU), 6-1, 6-1
4. Carter (UM) def. Wahinepio (NAU), 4-6, 6-4, 6-1
5. Gbadamosi (UM) def. Pacaut (NAU), 6-3, 2-6, 6-2**
6. Ashley Mackey (UM) def. Perez (NAU), 6-4, 7-5
Order of Finish: (3, 2, 4, 6, 5)