Brian Olmo | Sports Director
No. 38 FIU women’s tennis routed No. 58 Rice 4-1 at the Waranch Tennis Complex in Denton, Texas, to win its second Conference USA Championship in program history and earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
It’ll be the Panthers’ third straight NCAA appearance under coach Katarina Petrovic, who has led the team to its fifth 15+ win season since 2013 with a record of 18-4.
The day started with the No. 3 duo junior Salma Loudili and freshman Katerina Mandelikova earning their fourth straight win of the season together, outperforming Rice’s team of sophomore Saara Orav and freshman Darya Schwartzman, 6-3.
Before sophomore Yasmine Kabbaj and freshman Oyinlomo Quadre could convert their 5-4 advantage, No. 79 duo freshman Ekaterina Khairutdinova and graduate Kamila Umarova clinched the point for FIU with a resounding 6-4 victory, giving the team a 1-0 lead heading into singles play.
With the championship in reach, the Panthers tallied first-set wins on four courts to give themselves a decisive advantage.
Kabbaj struck first, dropping sophomore Allison Zipoli in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1.
Rice wasted no time in responding as junior Federica Trevisan would make quick work of Khairutdinova to cut FIU’s lead to 2-1.
Mandelikova won her crucial match against senior Maria Budin, 6-3, 6-4, to extend the Panthers’ lead to 3-1.
All eyes fell on FIU’s freshman phenom to carry the team across the finish line.
“Quadre was late getting in. Being from Nigeria, she had to do extra paperwork from the NCAA standpoint,” said Petrovic.
“Therefore, she wasn’t here in August and was not allowed to compete at all. So she had not played a tennis match in six months and for her to step up in January, miss the first few days of practice and step on the court three days prior for the first match against Liberty was huge.”
Quadre finished the Owls off to fulfill FIU’s championship dreams, dispatching graduate Diae El Jardi in a 6-3, 7-5 thriller.
The team stormed the court seconds after, celebrating the culmination of their work this season.
But once the cheers died down, the Panthers all echoed a similar sentiment: there was still work to be done.
The Panthers will be given their regional matchup for the NCAA Tournament on Monday, May 1. The tournament will take place at regional campuses from May 11-16 and at the UTSA National Campus from May 17-27.
1. Yasmine Kabbaj (FIU) def. Allison Zipoli (RICE) 6-3, 6-1
2. Federica Trevisan (RICE) def. E. Khairutdinova (FIU) 6-2, 6-3
3. Oyinlomo Quadrea (FIU) def. Diae El Jardi (RICE) 6-3, 7-5
4. Kamila Umarova (FIU) vs. Darya Schwartzman (RICE) 1-6, 6-4, 1-1, unfinished
5. Katerina Mandelikova (FIU) def. Maria Budin (RICE) 6-3, 6-4
6. Salma Loudili (FIU) vs. Saara Orav (RICE) 7-5, 3-3, unfinished
Order of finish: 1,2,5,3
1. #79 E. Khairutdinova/Kamila Umarova (FIU) def. Diae El Jardi/Allison Zipoli (RICE) 6-4
2. #75 Yasmine Kabbaj/Oyinlomo Quadre (FIU) vs. Maria Budin/Federica Trevisan (RICE) 5-4, unfinished
3. Salma Loudili/Katerina Mandelikova (FIU) def. Saara Orav/Darya Schwartzman (RICE) 6-3
Order of finish: 3,1
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