Republished from The Maneater
Before Sunday, the Missouri women’s tennis team had never defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes. The one-loss Tigers were ready for that to change.
“This team is ranked higher than we are,” senior Kaitlyn Ritchie said. “But I think that those of us — the leaders on the team and the upper classmen — who have played Iowa a couple times knew what we could get. We really stressed that we were capable and that we knew that we could win.”
The Tigers (6-1) did just that, knocking off the Hawkeyes 4-3 Sunday at Green Tennis Center.
The Hawkeyes (2-6) struck first, securing the doubles point with a 9-8 (7-5) victory by Tina Harazin and Jessica Young over Maria Christensen and Rachel Stuhlmann.
Christensen and Stuhlmann had never played together before, so they were not entirely disheartened by their doubles defeat.
“It was a tryout, and we did really well,” Christensen said. “I was still happy after. It’s one point, you know. One point.”
The two used their strong effort to build confidence for the singles round.
“It’s like two different matches,” Stuhlmann said. “So it was on to the next one. And we had a solid match, just a couple points didn’t go our way, so we stayed focus and pulled out the singles.”
The Tigers began the singles round by winning all four of the first sets, which is both a blessing and a curse, coach Steve Stuckenschneider said.
“That’s always big,” he said. “That always gives us the confidence that things are going your way. But on the opposite end of that spectrum, it’s also going to let that girl loosen up a little bit. It’s always better to win the first set than lose the first set, but you always want to reiterate to the girls that we play two out of three for a reason.”
Senior Mallory Weber and freshman Marlen Hacke needed no reminder, finishing off their opponents 6-2, 6-2 and 7-5, 7-6, respectively. Ritchie had a bit more difficulty with her one-spot opponent. Junior Sonja Molnar took Ritchie to the third set.
“I have my experience with third sets,” Ritchie said. “I think seven or eight of my Big 12 matches last year went to third sets, and that’s just the mindset I have to go on the court with: playing like every girl I play is going be just as capable and just as good, and I need to be able to compete well for three solid sets.”
While Ritchie was battling Molnar, Christensen finished off Iowa senior Alexis Dorr, 6-1, 6-1, yielding the court to Stuhlmann, who had the opportunity to secure victory for Missouri.
“There’s always that pressure on you,” Stuhlmann said. “But it’s just overcoming it. Steve, our coach, really helped me out and stay focused when he came and talked to me on the court.”
Stuhlmann sealed the deal for the Tigers, defeating Iowa junior Ally Majercik 6-3, 6-0.
“I just decided to stay real aggressive and trust my shots,” Stuhlmann said. “The support of the team was great, too. And the crowd; it was just really fun playing for a huge crowd.”
The victory was a big one for the Tigers heading into conference season.
“It’s definitely the biggest one of the year,” Stuckenschneider said. “We were looking forward to this one for a long time, so to have a good school like this at our place and to come out with a big victory is a big deal for us.”