Tennis: Panthers finding early success

By Nate Barnes

After the Pitt women’s tennis team managed to appear in the final matches of the Women’s… After the Pitt women’s tennis team managed to appear in the final matches of the Women’s Eastern Collegiate Tournament without taking home any titles, the Panthers were looking for a breakthrough. Last weekend, they got it.

No. 2-seeded Kimmy Borza took home her first collegiate tournament title from the Martha Thorn Invitational, defeating her teammate Karma Parbhu in consecutive 6-1 sets in the finals of the Flight C Singles bracket. Borza was the only Panther to finish at the top of her bracket.

The tournament, held in hostile territory in West Virginia, left the Panthers feeling confident.

“Everyone is feeling good,” Borza said. “This is the strongest team that Pitt has had in a while, and other schools are starting to notice after they saw so many of our players playing in final matches in these past two tournaments. We all knew we had talent, and these tournaments have confirmed that, as well as given us a lot of confidence.”

The Invitational — in which play was divided into three brackets (Flight A, Flight B and Flight C) — featured Pitt, West Virginia, Ohio State, Cleveland State, Virginia Tech, Duquesne and Youngstown State. The tournament was West Virginia’s only home event of the season. Play at the tournament was outside of the NCAA regular season for tennis.

Another sophomore, Taylor Washington, also continued to play strong tennis as she defeated Mary Chupa of West Virginia with a straight-set victory, 6-0, 6-4, to win the Flight B Singles consolation bracket.

In addition to simply being a strong showing, the Panthers’ victory at the Martha Thorn Invitational was also a rarity.

“We have had few players in Pitt history who have gone down to that tournament and won a title, so it was certainly the bright spot of the weekend,” Coach George Dieffenbach said. “Karma should be commended as well, she played strong tennis the entire weekend and competed hard.”

In fact, no Panther has ever won a main draw the the Martha Thorn since Pitt first appeared in the tournament in 1999. In winning the title, Borza finished the weekend with a perfect 3-0 record. Her first match came against an opponent from Cleveland State, Alex Power. Borza fell behind early before she mounted a comeback and won in a tie-breaker to advance to the semifinals.

Borza’s quarterfinal victory over Power came on the same day that all the Panthers playing in Flight C advanced to the semifinals. Senior Minh Evans defeated Danielle Oslo from Duquesne in straight sets, 6-3 and 6-4. In addition, junior Parbhu took home a victory against another Duquesne opponent, Airlissa Tobe. As a result, Pitt players constituted 75 percent of the players in the semifinal.

In the semifinals, Borza squared off against Evans. Borza defeated Evans in straight sets, 6-0 and 6-2. In the other semifinal, Parbhu pulled out a hard-fought, three-set victory over Catie Wickline from rival West Virginia. Parbhu dominated the first set 6-1, but after dropping the second 6-7 she needed a 6-3 victory to punch her ticket to the finals.

In other singles action, Pitt freshmen Molly and Amanda Wickman played in the Flight B singles bracket. Molly Wickman won twice on the first day, first against Judy Li and then against Paula Gruber, both of Duquesne.

In the second round, she upset top-seeded Emily Lauten from Virginia Tech. After losing the first set 3-6, Wickman rallied for a 6-1 second-set victory and a 6-2 triumph in the deciding set. In the final, she finished as the Flight B runner-up, losing to Kate Blow from Virginia Tech in straight sets and ending the weekend with a 3-1 record.

Molly’s sister, Amanda Wickman, also enjoyed success in Flight B, as she had an impressive upset of her own coming in the first round against her opponent from Cleveland State, No. 2-seeded Kara Sherwood. But in the quarterfinals against Veronica Cardenas from West Virginia, Amanda won the first set 6-4 but lost the ensuing sets 5-7 and 2-6 to be knocked into the consolation bracket. Wickman then defeated Duquesne’s Chandler Consonery to advance to the Flight B consolation final where she lost to Gruber.

In the top flight of the singles bracket, two Panthers lost on the first day. Sophomore Jocelyn Lu defeated Mells Tank of WVU with 7-5, 6-4 straight-set victories. In the quarterfinals, Lu lost a tough match to Tea Ivanovic from Virginia Tech, 2-6 and 1-6.

Junior Gabrielle Catanzariti won her first match of the day, 6-2, 7-5, against Kelsey Becker of Ohio State. But, like Lu, Catanzariti lost in the quarterfinals to Emily Mathis of West Virginia, 2-6, 4-6.

The next day, Catanzariti defeated Ikttesh Chahal of West Virginia. After losing the first set 3-6, Catanzariti took the second 6-2 and came out on top in the tie-breaker 11-9 to win the match. Lu also posted a victory, winning 6-1 and 6-0 against Vanessa Steiner from Duquesne. The two victories set up a fifth-place match between Pitt players.

The Panthers also had some success in the doubles tournament.

Playing in the Flight C bracket — and together for the first time in college — the Wickman sisters finished the weekend 2-1 after defeating teams from Duquesne and Cleveland State, but lost in the semifinal to West Virginia. In the top-flight bracket, Washington and Lu defeated Chahal and Mathis of WVU in the first round before losing to Duquesne in the next round.

One development has been the rise of Washington, who — after receiving only sparing playing time last season — has already made a difference on the court.

“I sat and watched a lot last year and learned from some of the older players,” Washington said. “I knew I could compete in the top six, and I set that as my goal. Over the summer, I changed my coach and also worked at a tennis club, where I coached and then played. So every day, I was playing for two to three hours.”

The Wickman sisters have already shown a great amount of potential and indications of what they will bring to the table in their four years at Pitt. Most importantly, Borza and Lu have shown that they are both prepared to step up and establish themselves as some of the best players in the Big East.

Next on the Panthers’ docket is the ITA Regional Tennis Championships, to be held in Norfolk, Va., this weekend.

“We saw a lot of strong results from this tournament, and the team grew from it,” Dieffenbach said. “We brought home a champion this week. Taylor really came on strong, and we are giving glimpses that we are going to be a contender in the spring. Not only is this a preview for Big East play, but also down the line when we will be playing teams like Virginia Tech in the ACC.”

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