By Dean Boerner | Editor-in-Chief

The Gaels celebrate after clinching victory over Gonzaga (Courtesy of smcgaels.com)

Saint Mary’s women’s tennis came through in perhaps their biggest weekend of the season, dominating Portland by a score of 4-0 on Friday before edging rival Gonzaga 4-3 in Moraga Saturday afternoon. With the win, the Gaels have taken sole possession of second place in West Coast Conference standings and now have a date with BYU next Saturday, where a win would ensure at least a second-place WCC finish before heading into the conference tournament.

“We travel to BYU, and then the following week we have the conference tournament,” said Kareena Manji, one of three seniors honored on the Gaels’ Senior Day, their last home match at Saint Mary’s. Manji, like Emma Critser, one of the other Saint Mary’s seniors nearing the end of the career, won both of their singles matches over the weekend. The other senior of the trio, Vanessa Nommensen, went 1-1.

At the Timothy Korth Tennis Complex on Saturday, things began by going the Gaels’ way. Saint Mary’s earned the doubles point to start the day when the 43rd ranked team in the nation, made up of Saint Mary’s freshmen Hind Abdelouahid and Mariia Kozyreva, took down No. 29 Sophie Whittle/Graciela Rosas of Gonzaga 7-6 (7-1). The earlier 6-0 win by the longtime doubles duo of Critser and Manji allowed Abdelouahid and Kozyreva to clinch the point with their dramatic win.
The doubles matches were only the beginning of a competitive day between two of the West Coast Conference’s best teams. The Bulldogs managed to jump ahead in the singles contests. On court No. 1, No. 29 Sophie Whittle defeated No. 106 Mariia Kozyreva to tie the overall score 1-1.
But Critser’s 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) win over Gonzaga sophomore Haruna Tsuruta and Manji’s 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 victory over Domonique Garley put Saint Mary’s up 3-1 and seemingly close to victory. Nevertheless, Gonzaga wins on courts No. 3 and No. 6 tied things up, leaving it up to the freshman Abdelouahid to seal the deal on court No. 2. She did, 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, and the Gaels won the day to edge past the Bulldogs into second place in the WCC.

Hind credited her teammates for helping her finish the decisive battle in victory. “It was all my team,” she said. “They were out here fighting for every point, and I couldn’t have done it without them and without their support.”

Hind, like several of her teammates, dropped her second set to her Gonzaga opponent before regaining form in the third and final set. “In the third set,” she said, “I came out with energy, and that was what made the difference.”

The win over Portland the day prior came much less dramatically for the Gaels, but it set the stage for Saturday’s dramatics. The Gaels swept the Pilots 4-0, leaving Saint Mary’s 5-2 in WCC play, compared to Gonzaga’s 5-1, before Saturday’s contest put the Gaels ahead by a match in the win column.

“I think we were just pretty ready to go,” said Nommensen. “It’s been an emotional week, I think for all of us. That being said, we’re still focused on the tennis part of it.”

Before beginning the conference tournament as the No. 2 seed, the Gaels will have to defeat BYU (4-3 WCC, 11-8) in Provo Utah next week. In the process, they would exact some revenge on the Cougars, who, as the No. 6 seed, upset the third-seeded Gaels in the conference tournament last season.

“BYU is going to be tough,” said Abdelouahid. “We know they’re a great team.”

Saint Mary’s clinched a postseason spot regardless with their Friday win over Portland, but a strong showing over BYU would give the Gaels even more momentum before the tournament.

“I think we can take it all the way,” said Abdelouahid after Saturday’s action. “I think we have a great chance.”

Nommensen agreed. “We’ve been playing so well that I think we’ll have a good shot,” said the senior. “We have nothing to lose; we can only win, so it would be fun.”

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