The University of Wisconsin women’s tennis team heads into today’s Big Ten tournament aiming to extend its season with a timely run. The Badgers (13-10, 6-4) finished the regular season tied for fourth in the conference with Michigan, who will be the Badgers’ first opponent in the tournament.
By finishing fourth in the conference, the Badgers, ranked 53rd in the country, were allotted a bye in the first round of the tournament along with No. 1 seed and host Northwestern, two seed Indiana and three seed Illinois. Thus, UW will not play until Friday.
Against No. 27 Michigan, Wisconsin will look to drastically change the outcome from its season finale, where UW fell victim to a 7-0 sweep by the Wolverines Sunday. Though Wisconsin failed to earn a point, the duel was hotly contested with four of the six singles matches going to the full three sets. The hard-fought meeting between the Badgers and the Wolverines promises an exciting match Friday.
Before their loss to Michigan, the Badgers had been red-hot, streaking through the Big Ten schedule after dropping their first three duels to Northwestern, Indiana and Illinois. Several Badgers caught fire to power the run, including No. 1 Katie McGaffigan, No.2 Shana McElroy, No. 3 Caitlin Burke, No. 4 Kaylan Caiati and No. 6 Teresa Gonzaga.
McGaffigan, ranked the No. 96 singles player in the country, leads the way with a season record of 21-15, including 5-5 in the Big Ten. McGaffigan won five of her last seven matches, with three of those wins coming against ranked opponents. Against Michigan she took No. 57 Michelle DeCosta down to the wire, losing in a third-set tie breaker. McGaffigan also teams up with junior Lindsey Martin to form the No.57-ranked doubles team.
Senior McElroy (17-18, 6-4) has also won five of her last seven matches and is one of two seniors on the roster. McElroy has been a star for Wisconsin since her freshman year, when she led the team in victories and looks to avenge her two-set sweep to No. 101 Elizabeth Exon when they meet Friday.
Freshman Caitlin Burke (8-1, 8-1) has been the story of the season for the Badgers. After being injured the entire season, Burke joined up with UW in the midst of the Big Ten season and rattled off eight consecutive victories, all against Big Ten competition, before losing her first match to Michigan’s Kaviha Tipirneni. Not only was Burke’s loss to Michigan her first lost match, but Burke had won every set she played until losing the opening set to Tipirneni. Burke extended the duel to three sets before finally falling. Burke also has won every doubles match she has played in, going 9-0 with partner Gonzaga. The team is ranked No. 56.
Freshman Caiati (20-15, 6-4) has won six of her last eight and is the Badgers’ other surprising fresh face. Caiati has stepped up in her inaugural season and with Burke, has given the team the unexpected firepower it needed to make a run through the Big Ten season. Beside Burke, Caiati was the only player to defeat her opponent against Illinois. In the match against Michigan, Caiati fell to Debra Streifler in three sets.
Senior Gonzaga (12-22, 5-5) won five of her last six matches to end the regular season. She has been a leader all season and has shown her leadership through her strong play down the stretch. Gonzaga lost in straight sets to Kara Delicata against Michigan Sunday.
The Badgers’ last singles player, No. 5 Martin (17-18, 2-8), has struggled in conference play, but she has put up solid fights in her last two matches. Against the Wolverines, Martin stretched the match to three sets against Chrissie Nolan.
If Wisconsin hopes to advance deep into the tournament and push for an NCAA bid, the players will have to reverse their fortunes against the conference’s top tier. The Badgers’ four Big Ten loses are against the top four teams in the tournament (excluding Wisconsin): Northwestern, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.
If it were to defeat Michigan, Wisconsin would likely advance to play Northwestern most likely, as the Wildcats take on the winner of today’s Michigan St.-Purdue duel Friday. The championship round is scheduled for Sunday.