SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Northern Arizona women's team could not use the momentum gained from taking the doubles point to reach their seventh straight Big Sky Championship final, falling to Montana, 4-2, in Saturday's semifinal at the Gold River Racquet Club. Montana, the third-seed, will play the top-seeded host and 10-time defending Big Sky champions Sacramento State on Sunday for a berth in the NCAA Tennis Championships.
"We came out playing well and I wouldn't say we fell apart by any means," said director of tennis Kim Bruno. "We played good tennis. We knew it was going to be a battle going into this. We had three-setters that could've gone either way and if you look at the scores, it really was a point here and a point there and we couldn't come up with it today."
The Lumberjacks, who entered the match as the tournament's second-seed, got off to a great start and looked poised to bounce the Grizzlies from the semifinals for the third straight year by taking the doubles point. After Montana snatched a win at No. 3 doubles, NAU responded with wins at the final two spots to steal the point from the Grizzlies.
Juniors Ghizelene Doballah and Malia Wahinepio evened the doubles action by earning a win at the No. 1 spot and freshmen Hannah Stone and Johanna Vang followed with the clinching-win, 8-3, over Sasha Carter and Maddy Murray at the No. 2 position.
Murray quickly evened the match score with a 6-2, 6-1 win over junior Nicole Perez at No. 5 in the first completed match in singles play. Wahinepio answered though, claiming the team's only singles win in the process, and pushed NAU back in the lead with a 6-4, 6-3 victory at No. 3 over Montana's Ashley Mackey.
Down 2-1, the Grizzlies would then send the Lumberjacks packing with three straight singles wins, including a pair of three-set victories. After Montana tied the score at 2-2 courtesy of a win at No. 1, Precious Gbadamosi and Laurence Pelchat rallied for three-set wins at the No. 6 and 2 spots respectively over junior Alice Pacaut and Stone to propel the Grizzlies to the final and cutting the Lumberjacks' season short of its goal.
"This isn't the way we wanted to end, but what we accomplished this season should not be forgotten," Bruno said. "To me, that's where the true journey of the season is. This tournament doesn't really sum who we are and our results is a better tell-tale sign of what we accomplished and how we've grown as a team. We've come a long way, overcame a rough start and we have to be proud of what we accomplished and keep our heads up."
Wahinepio, Vang and Pacaut all concluded the season with a team-high 11 singles victories. Stone finished just behind with 10 wins and Doballah had nine in her first season of competition after redshirting last year while playing the whole year at the No. 1 spot in the lineup. Stone and Vang also added to their incredible debut seasons, teaming together for a 13-6 doubles record, combining for 45 percent of the team's total number of wins in doubles play.
Furthermore, unlike this year when the team lost four starters from a year ago, the Lumberjacks, with no seniors on their roster, will return all six starters from a team that finished with a 10-13 record, the program's seventh straight double-digit win season, despite virtually a brand new lineup and a scheduled that included seven teams in the ITA's top-75 rankings.
"I don't think the girls want this feeling again and we have to learn from it and move on," Bruno said. "We're going to be better next year, there's no question about it."
1. Ghizelene Doballah/Malia Wahinepio (NAU) def. Heather Davidson/Laurence Pelchat (UM), 8-4
2. Hannah Stone/Johanna Vang (NAU) def. Sasha Carter/Maddy Murray (UM), 8-3*
3. Precious Gbadamosi/Lauren Gibson (UM) def. Alice Pacaut/Nicole Perez (NAU), 8-4
*Clinched Doubles Point
Order of Finish: (3, 1, 2)
1. Davidson (UM) def. Doballah (NAU), 6-4, 6-3
2. Pelchat (UM) def. Stone (NAU), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4**
3. Wahinepio (NAU) def. Ashley Mackey (UM), 6-4, 6-3
4. Vang (NAU) vs. Carter (UM), unfinished
5. Murray (UM) def. Perez (NAU), 6-2, 6-1
6. Gbadamosi (UM) def. Pacaut (NAU), 2-6, 6-3, 6-4
Order of Finish: (5, 3, 1, 6, 2)