FORT WAYNE – The afternoon’s telecast that announced the pairings for the NCAA women’s tennis tournament was in the wrapping-up stages, and already the pockets of player conversation around the long table inside IPFW’s Gates Center was about the Mastodons’ first-round opponent.
But from the end opposite where coach Eric Burns sat, a plaintive voice arose from the group, Where are we going?
Michigan. IPFW is going to Michigan.
To a woman, the team that has won 17 consecutive matches, including the 4-3 victory over UMKC that clinched it the Summit League tournament title and a berth into the tournament, wanted to play at some exotic locale; one preferably with a beach.
With nation’s sixth-ranked and regular-season Big Ten champion Wolverines (21-5) dead ahead, the 1 p.m. first-round match May 10 promises to be no day at the beach for IPFW.
They know what they’re up against, Burns said. They’ve seen these girls play at our (ITA) regional in the fall. They know the level of competition they’re going to have to play at.
We’re going to enjoy this experience. Let’s do some head-hunting. Let’s see if we can try to pull an upset in a match or two, or even get a set. Like at Northwestern (two years ago), we were up 5-3 when the match got stopped against their No. 1 (doubles) team, and I think they were 12th in the nation at the time. We’re looking for those kind of matches. Maybe we can get over the hump in one of those and pull an upset; kind of shock ’em a little bit.
This will be the third NCAA appearance for IPFW in the past four years.
In 2010, IPFW lost 4-0 at Notre Dame. A year later, the Mastodons went to Northwestern and lost by the same score.
It will be the second NCAA tournament for No. 2 singles player Caterina Kiefer – kind of.
Kiefer was two games into her No. 4 singles match at Northwestern when she tore the ACL in her left knee.
Nevertheless, she says the tournament experience will benefit her.
It’s going to help with the nervousness that everyone has, since I’ve already been there two years ago, Kiefer said.
I’m not going to be as nervous, but I’ll be excited.
In May 10’s 10 a.m. match at Michigan, Notre Dame (17-8) will face North Carolina State (14-9). Friday’s winners play at 1 p.m. Saturday.