Cougars prove Husky bark bigger than bite

Beat UW for first time since 2014

Yang+Lee+swings+at+the+ball+during+an+NCAA+collegiate+tennis+match+against+UW%2C+April+15.

KHOI VU

Yang Lee swings at the ball during an NCAA collegiate tennis match against UW, April 15.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen reporter

Fifth-year senior Michaela Bayerlova and senior Savanna Ly-Nguyen had never beaten University of Washington. On Friday, they finally did. The No. 32 Huskies were a loud bunch, but the Cougs (7-14, 2-8) were louder on their way to a 4-3 victory in Pullman.

WSU preceded their classic battle with UW with a ceremony honoring their two graduating seniors: Bayerlova and Ly-Nguyen.

Bayerlova arrived at WSU in 2017 and leaves as one of the most decorated Cougar tennis players in school history. She is currently ranked No. 513 in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association. At WSU, Bayerlova recorded 90 wins, the seventh most in program history.

Ly-Nguyen came to WSU in 2018 and leaves having won at least 16 singles matches every year of her career. In 2022, she set a career-high with 21 singles wins.

“We were just so excited to win today, and we were excited because it was our senior day, and we just wanted to make a good last impression, you know, and we did,” Ly-Nguyen said.

Head coach Raquel Atawo is happy to have had two stellar seniors during her first year in Pullman.

“[They have set an example] that’s hard to beat. They’ve just set such great examples for everyone,” Atawo said. “They’ve accomplished so much, really good students as well. So, I mean, they’re very accomplished individuals. I think they’re going to be successful no matter what they do after college.”

The seniors recognize their role in leading and inspiring their teammates.

“You could see it in the last couple of matches. We were so close, and everyone was getting better,” Bayerlova said.

Four of WSU’s 10 conference matches were decided by one point, and the win against UW on Friday was WSU’s lone one-point conference win.

“We just wanted to keep fighting and show them [the younger players] we wanted to keep fighting, never giving up. I think that kind of transferred onto them both the past couple of matches, and they’re learning, so it’s really great to see that we’re having an impact on the younger girls,” Ly-Nguyen said.

Atawo said the Cougs came out of the gate inspired and ready to compete in the classic rivalry match.

“They just seemed happy from the start. We didn’t need to motivate them at all. They were super proud. They were just ready to go,” Atawo said. “I think they knew this was our last home match, the last regular season match. And so they appreciated it, you know, they were able to just kind of play with everything today.”

In doubles, the crowd was loud and tensions were high. Among the Husky squad was a former Coug, senior Hikaru Sato, who spent her freshman, sophomore and junior seasons at WSU.

One vocal Coug fan shouted “traitor” toward Sato at the start of the match.

Debuting in the national rankings at No. 57, doubles pair Bayerlova and Maxine Murphy faced the WSU deserter Sato and Vanessa Wong, the No. 85 pair in the nation.

Bayerlova and Ly-Nguyen jumped to 4-1 leads in their respective games, while the duo of Fifa Kumhom and Hania Abouelsaad were tied with their opponents, 3-3.

The Huskies pulled ahead of the Cougs on court three, but WSU ensured their two seniors were victorious in their final doubles matches.

The Coug of five years, Bayerlova, bounced a ball off the edge of the court and out of the former Coug, Sato’s reach. With a chance to make history, Bayerlova put on a show for the WSU fans one last time. Much like in doubles, Bayerlova was on fire, hitting the ball with enough juice to razzle her opponent in singles.

Ly-Nguyen made quick work of her opponent with a pair of 6-1 victories to win her final home match — her 21st win of the season and 73rd of her college career.

On senior day, it was a sophomore that delivered the final blow when the Cougs needed it most.

After the Cougs lept out to a 3-0 lead on the back of their heroic seniors, the Huskies made the match interesting. Abouelsaad and Lee lost in straight sets. Abouelsaad finished her first college season 4-15 after initially committing to the program when Lisa Hart was head coach.

Lee finished the year 3-8, her second straight year of single-digit singles wins after posting 18 and 12 wins, respectively, in her first two years. She had more luck in doubles, winning 13 in 2022. 

Lee got some good slices in to wow the crowd but made some costly mistakes in the heat of competition. Lee is eligible to return to WSU because of the extra year of NCAA eligibility granted to all players who played in 2020.

KHOI VU
The WSU women’s tennis team celebrates Fifa Kumhom’s win during an NCAA collegiate tennis match against UW, April 15.

Once again, Murphy had a rough first set and a dominant second set but fell behind in the third set to ultimately lose. Her passion and excitement were visible throughout as she caught her opponent off guard with swift attacks on the ball.

Murphy finished her freshman year a 10-match winner but came up just one set shy of victory twice over the course of her last three matches. Murphy lost four straight matches to end the year after the biggest win of her career over the then-No. 77 player in the nation, USC’s Snow Han.

With the match tied 3-3, attention turned to sophomore Kumhom. Kumhom struggled during her first set, and all looked lost for the Cougs. However, the sophomore showed some senior-like skill and focus during the next two sets, to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-0.

After winning match point, screams of joy echoed off the Fieldhouse walls as Kumhom’s teammates surrounded her in celebration. Thanks to stellar senior leadership and the heroics of Kumhom, the Cougs took the Dawgs for a walk-off and won their first match against UW since 2014.

With the regular dual season complete, the Cougs turn their attention to Ojai, Calif., for the 2022 Pac-12 Tennis Championships. WSU began play on Wednesday at the Ojai Valley Tennis Club, beating UW in the first round 4-2.