Cougar tennis climbs the mountain of victory against Colorado, falls to Utah

Cougs break nine-match losing streak; Ly-Nguyen dazzles with improbable comeback



Savanna Ly-Nguyen celebrates a point during a doubles match against Idaho, Saturday, Jan. 29, at Hollingbery Fieldhouse.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor

WSU tennis (6-9, 1-3) beat Colorado (5-10, 0-6) in a nailbiter March 11 and lost to Utah (13-5, 2-4) in a tense battle March 13.

Seniors Michaela Bayerlova and Savanna Ly-Nguyen led the way, clinching two singles victories each for the Cougs.

Ly-Nguyen played a marathon’s worth of tennis in one weekend against the mountain schools, with both of her singles going into the third set.

Against Colorado, Ly-Nguyen faced three match points en route to a 7-5 victory in the second set. Ly-Nguyen pulled off a nine-game win streak in the middle of the match, leading her to triumph, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4.

“I was down three match points and I was like, ‘I don’t want to lose this. I want to keep fighting,’” Ly-Nguyen said.

With the match on the line, her teammates gathered around the court to cheer her on.

“Let’s go Savvy!” and “Go Cougs” echoed throughout the fieldhouse.

As soon as Ly-Nguyen clinched the victory, her teammates erupted in excitement, surrounding the winner with a storm of cheers and lifting her off the ground.

“I love being under pressure and winning this way for the team,” Ly-Nguyen said. “You know, seeing them so happy, I’m glad I could do that.”

4-2 Win vs. Colorado

The Cougs started the weekend off right by securing the doubles point.

Senior Yang Lee and sophomore Fifa Kumhom beat Colorado’s Antonia Balzert and Ky Ecton, 6-1. Ly-Nguyen and freshman Elyse Tse beat Colorado’s Ellen Puzak and Betina Tokac, 6-3.

Bayerlova and freshman Maxine Murphy played a competitive match and were locked in a tie at 4-4, when Ly-Nguyen and Tse clinched the point for the Cougs.

In singles, Bayerlova fought a full three sets to claim a victory for the Cougars. She traded 6-4 sets with Balzert, taking the first and dropping the second, before dominating in the third set, 6-0. The German athletes are about six hours apart back home — Bayerlova is from Krumbach, Germany and Balzert is from Dusseldorf, Germany. 

Murphy had a few comeback tricks up her sleeve as well. After losing the first set, she excelled in sets two and three to win, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1. Tse lost in straight sets at No. 4, 6-1, 6-0. Hania Abouelsaad lost in straight sets at No. 5, 6-2, 6-2. Her record dropped to 4-10, 3-8 in the dual season.

Ly-Nguyen beat Caroline Pozo in dramatic fashion for her team-leading 15th singles win of the dual season.

“Always to be in that position and be able to fight through, and feel the pressure and know it comes down to you is good,” head coach Raquel Atawo said about Ly-Nguyen. “Tennis is normally a lot of up and down. So as long as we can avoid straight down you know, I think we’ll find a way back into matches.”

After facing the Cougs, March 11, the Buffaloes drove six hours to Seattle to play No. 17 University of Washington where they lost 6-1.

4-3 loss vs. Utah

Only a month removed from their last meeting, the Cougs and No. 29 Utes sparred in the Hollingbery Fieldhouse. The Utes won decisive moments in the match and beat the Cougs by the same score as their last meeting in Salt Lake, 4-3. This was the Cougs’ first home loss.

Unfortunately, the Cougs fell behind early, losing a tough pair of doubles and winning one.

Ly-Nguyen and Tse did their part and beat Utah’s Lindsay Hung and Madeline Lamoreaux, 6-1, earning their 11th doubles win of the season together. Their record is now an impressive 11-3.

The trouble started brewing on court two, where Lee and Kumhom lost to Linda Huang and Madison Tattini, 6-4. Lee and Kumhom now hold a 9-8 overall record, 6-7 in the dual season.

On court one, Bayerlova and Murphy’s match came down to a seven-point tiebreaker, which the pair lost 7-5 against the nation’s 54th-ranked duo of Emily Dush and Anastasia Goncharova. The pair lost their sixth doubles match, dropping their overall record to 5-6. 

Having lost the doubles point, the Cougs faced an even steeper uphill battle against the No. 29 team in the country.

Bayerlova had an excellent outing, beating the nation’s 97th-ranked player Huang in straight sets, 6-1, 6-0. Her singles record is 11-1 overall, 6-1 in the dual season.

Kumhom, Murphy and Tse were each outdone by a talented Utah squad. 

Kumhom lost to Goncharova, 6-2, 7-5. Her singles record is 10-13 overall, 3-7 in the dual season.

Murphy, two days removed from her comeback singles win, saw her hot start erased by a 7-2 tiebreaker loss to Hung in set one. Murphy could not bounce back from the set one loss and lost set two, 6-3. Her singles record is 8-12 overall, 5-7 in the dual season.

Coach Atawo said that sometimes tiebreakers come down to a little bit of luck.

“It’s not a regular game, so sometimes it’s a little bit of luck, especially when it’s tight. But who’s gonna play their game the best under pressure,” Atawo said.

Tse was the third Coug to lose in straight sets, losing to Tattini, 6-2, 6-4. Her singles record is 2-14 overall, 2-11 in the dual season.

With those three singles losses, the match was decided in favor of Utah but the coaches each decided to play the remaining two matches. 

Ly-Nguyen was locked in a furious battle with Dush, earning her team-leading 16th singles win. Ly-Nguyen won set one, lost set two in the Cougs’ third tiebreaker of the day, and won set three. Her singles record now sits at 16-9 overall and 7-5 in the dual season.

At the No. 6 spot, Lee was the last match of the day. With WSU’s hopes of winning the match far behind them, the Cougars still rallied around court four to cheer on Lee. Lee, who had lost in doubles earlier in the day, knew exactly what she needed to do to win.

“I was kind of nervous,” Lee said. “I was just trying to be patient and then trying to just stick to my game plan and then it worked out in the end.”

Lee beat Lamoreaux, 6-3, 6-4. She improved her singles record to 3-3.

The Utah players were their teammates’ own best fans in Pullman, shouting compliments to each other throughout the match.

The Utes were not alone in their avid support for their teammates, as the Cougs shared a lot of love and support for each other as well. “Go Cougs” echoed throughout the fieldhouse several dozen times.

“When I was down a couple times in my match, my energy was really low, but then hearing everybody else fighting beside me helped me focus more,” Ly-Nguyen said.

Lee said that having her teammates’ support helps her play better.

“Their cheering is really funny,” Lee said. “They will make me laugh and then that actually makes me really relaxed. And then when I’m relaxed, when I’m smiling, I actually play better. When I’m more relaxed, I can be more focused too.”

The fans also showed up. The Cougs had 63 fans at March 11’s match and 38 at March 13’s. On Sunday, some of Murphy’s fans made signs in support of the team.

The Cougs are only two weeks into their PAC-12 matches and have a lot of confidence for the rest of the season.

“I think that we are all improving with a small percentage every match,” Abouelsaad said. “And that’s the important thing for the long term. And that’s what our coach is always telling us, at least after every match, we need to improve 1%, so at the end of the season, we have a huge improvement.”

The Cougs have a very road-heavy schedule with only three remaining home matches. When the Cougs return home in April, they will play all three matches at the WSU Outdoor Tennis Courts.

On Friday, WSU Tennis beat Gonzaga in Spokane, 5-2.