After a season that saw an incredible amount of success with some chaos mixed in, Ball State women’s tennis (22-4) played in their final match of the season Friday.
Making their third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the Cardinals were swept 4-0 by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (16-10). For the third consecutive year, Ball State failed to put up a point in any of the matches. But, junior Masha Polishchuk, who was on the previous tournament teams, said that this match felt and played out differently than the other two.
“We all stepped on the court with so much confidence, and we knew it could be our day,” Polishchuk said. “The main difference is that we’ve seen a lot of insane matches, but it was all about the belief in ourselves. We all grew up…it was all about trying your best.”
Doubles play began with the Cardinals showing off their tenacity early. Freshman Annika Planinsek and senior Amy Kaplan started the match up 3-2. Over on court three, seniors Emily Desai and Jessica Braun found themselves up by the same score as well. For a moment, Ball State had the momentum, but the Fighting Irish responded just as you thought a team from a power 5 conference like the ACC would. They won the match on court two by a score of 6-1. Kaplan and Planinsek couldn’t close them out on court 1 and lost 6-4. Braun and Desai were tied at 4 when the doubles point ended. They rounded out the season quite nicely. Since conference play began in March, they won every match that they competed in. Desai was happy with the way the duo played today in what turned out to be their last match together.
-“Me and Jess [Braun] have shared so many great memories over the past four years,” Desai said. “I’m just really glad [about] how well we played today…just hanging in there and playing our game. It was such a good match for us, and I’m really glad that was how we could go out. I’m really proud of her [Braun] today too.”
After falling behind 1-0, the Cardinals knew it would be tough, and it was. Courts 2 and 4 finished up rather quickly, and Ball State fell behind 3-0.
But they fought.
Sophomore Elena Malykh forced a third set on court 6, while Planinsek split her first two frames. Polishchuk lost her first set 6-1 but dominated in the second set to force a third. She said she had to adjust to an opponent who was churning out a lot of big-time serves.
“It’s about adjusting throughout the entire match. In the first set, I was just a little bit behind the baseline, and I realized it didn’t really work for me,” Polishchuk said. “I stepped in in the second set…made a lot of good returns, then she adjusted her serve…it was kind of just adjusting all around.”
Kaplan lost a close first set 7-5, and it came down to her to try and stave off elimination. She lost her second set 6-2, giving Notre Dame the win.
Friday marked the first time in the last three years that Ball State won a set in an NCAA tournament match, and they won three. Desai said that the program is in a much better place than when she found it and she hopes that continues.
“We’re just a big family,” Desai said. “I know I have twelve people to lean on when adversity strikes. I think the seniors have built so much, and I’m really excited to see where this program goes.”
Ball State will return players like Polishchuk, Malykh and Planinsek to their starting lineup next season. Other than that, they’ll have to replace a loaded senior class including like Braun, Kaplan and Emma Peeler who have pushed the program to new heights.
There’s still no telling who is going to be the Cardinals’ head coach, as Max Norris is still on administrative leave. However, through all of the hardships this year and the uncertainty next year, Polishchuk said there’s so much to be proud of right now.
“It’s definitely a historical season. The seniors have left such a big impact and mark on this program.” Polishchuk said. “They’re my family. I grew up with them. When I came here I didn’t know what college tennis was at all, but they taught me so much. We built this program together, they [the seniors] started building this program, and it’s something to definitely be remembered by. I’m so proud of them and excited to see their new chapter.
Contact Caleb Zuver with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zuves35.