East Lansing, Mich.--Despite being moved indoors for the finals of the 2005 Big Ten Championship, the Northwestern Wildcats claimed their seventh conference crown in as many years, by defeating the Michigan Wolverines, 4-1.
For the second day in a row, the doubles point created more drama than Northwestern had anticipated. All three matches finished nearly simultaneously. On the second court, Wildcats Alexis Prousis and Kristi Roemer earned the point's first match, defeating Michigan's team of Leanne Rutherford and Allie Shafner, 8-5.
About a minute later, the Maize and Blue first team of Michelle DaCosta and Kara Delicata knocked off Northwestern's Audra Cohen and Cristelle Grier, 8-5. The loss was the second in as many days for the Big Ten's top regular-season doubles team, after Cohen and Grier lost to Wisconsin in the semifinals.
Seconds later, Valerie Vladea and Feriel Esseghir claimed the third court victory, 8-5, over Michigan's squad of Elizabeth Exon and Debra Steifler. All three matches were close throughout, alternating leads, and no one had a three game lead until the matches were won. With the two victories, Northwestern earned the doubles point, and took a 1-0 lead heading into the singles competition.
At fourth singles, Valerie Vladea earned another point for the `Cats, by knocking off Leanne Rutherford in short order, 6-1, 6-0.
For the second day in a row, after losing the first doubles match, Audra Cohen stood across the first singles net from one of the competitors that defeated her minutes before. And just like in the semifinal match against Katie McGaffigan, Cohen came back strong in singles. Cohen led the first set from the get-go en route to a 6-2 finish, and despite trailing early in the second, came back to take the set, 6-3. With two early singles wins, the Wildcats took a commanding 3-0 lead, with four matches still on the court.
Despite the deficit, the Wolverines would not give in. Debra Steifler took the fifth singles match, 6-4, 6-0, over Northwestern's Andrea Yung. In the first set, Steifler jumped out to a big 5-0 lead, but Yung won the next four games to make it close, but eventually fell short. Similarly in the second set, Steifler took the lead early, but this time did not allow Yung to mount a comeback.
With Michigan now on the scoreboard, the Wildcats quickly slammed the door on a rally. After cruising to a first set 6-1 victory, NU's Alexis Prousis was tested in the second set by Kara Delicata. After being down 3-2 in the second, Delicata came back to take the lead 4-3. After trading games, Delicata held serve to force a tiebreak. While each hit impressive shots, Prousis came through with a 7-5 tiebreak victory to cement the Wildcats' seventh-straight Big Ten Championship.
Two matches were subsequently abandoned. On the second court, Northwestern's Cristelle Grier had taken the first set in a tiebreak and was leading in the second. The temporary score was 7-6 (7-5), 2-1. On the sixth singles court, Michigan's Nina Yaftali had a set in hand, 6-2, 4-5.
With the conference title in hand, the Wildcats earn the Big Ten's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Despite tying for fourth during the Big Ten's regular season, because of tiebreaking protocol, Michigan received the seventh seed in the championship, meaning that the Wolverines had to compete in the first round, when Northwestern was enjoying a bye. U-M knocked off the host Michigan State Spartans, 4-1, in that opening round, then eliminated second-seeded Indiana in the quarterfinals, 4-2. In the semifinals, the Maize and Blue held off a fiery Iowa squad, 4-3.
The top-seeded team, Northwestern, swept past Penn State, 4-0, in the quarterfinals, and despite losing the doubles point, beat Wisconsin, 4-1, to move into the final match.