In a match that was eerily similar to their playoff tilt a year ago at the same location; the College of Staten Island women’s tennis team punched their ticket to the CUNYAC Postseason Championship via a thrilling, 5-4, win over No. 3 Brooklyn College this evening at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. The win will send the Dolphins into their third straight CUNYAC Championship Final, where they will battle No. 1 seeded Hunter College, a 5-3 winner of No. 4 Baruch College earlier this evening. The Dolphins won for the seventh-straight time, improving to 10-3 overall, while the Bulldogs fell to 7-4 to finalize their fall season.
The two teams squared off last year in the CUNYAC Final and the result was the same as this evening, with all eyes focused on No. 4 Singles for the deciding point. A year ago, CSI’s Jean Baak scored a three-set win over BC’s Maria Sanz. This year the characters were different, but the script followed the same relative format.
Play began with doubles, and CSI registered early, as Nozima Toshpulatova and Michelle Kushnir, playing in the No. 2 position, were dominating. The duo was off the court quickly, scoring an 8-1 win over BC’s Muriel Dervich and Anastasia Volovik. The other two doubles pairings were incredibly competitive. At No. 3, the BC team of Rosalia Xue and Lauren Marino jumped out to an early, 4-1, lead over CSI’s Aziza Jurabaeva and Viktoriya Volkova, but the Dolphins came back, winning the next five points to take a 6-4 lead. Momentum shifted again, however, as the BC team stormed back, taking back the leaf again at 7-6. CSI was able to tie the score at 7-7, but BC would hold serve and then break CSI to score the 9-7 win, tying the match at 1-1.
Focus then shifted to the top spot, where the points were coming less frequent between CSI’s Sabrina Bragerton-Nasert and Madiha Mulla and BC’s Yuliya Orkis and Suraya Maenhout. In an odd twist, the first seven points scored in the match were on broken services, but with the score 4-3, BC was able to win on Maenhout’s serve to score a 5-3 lead. Brooklyn would eventually lead 7-4 and take the match, 8-5, and that gave the Bulldogs a decisive 2-1 edge after doubles.
Play then turned to Singles and CSI knew it needed four wins to clinch the match. It would prove tough as every time CSI had a little momentum, BC charged back ahead. First, Volkova scored a one-sided, 6-1, 6-1, winner over Marino in the sixth position, but Orkis was successful over Toshpulatova at No. 1, 6-0, 6-0, to put BC back up 3-2. A few minutes later, BC took another big step when Dervich defeated Jurabaeva, 6-1, 6-1, putting BC on the brink of victory. That put the pressure on the Dolphins, but they were up to the task. First, Kushnir was overpowering in a 6-1, 6-2 winner over Volovik at No. 5, and seconds later, Bragerton-Nasert put the finishing touches on a 6-3, 6-2, win over Maenhout at No. 2.
Then all eyes fell onto No.4 Singles, where CSI’s Madiha Mulla was locked in a dogfight with BC’s Xue. Like last season, the two competitors battled for long stretches, returning improbable shots and painting the lines with winners. Xue proved too much for Madiha in the first set, winning a very long, 7-5, set. In the second set, Mulla started to find her way. With her teammates cheering her on at every point, she was able to break open a 3-2 game and scored three straight points, taking a big 5-2 lead. After Xue took a step forward with a point Mulla powered through her service and scored a 6-3 win to knot things up.
With the cold breeze biting through the players, Mulla stood her ground. The junior broke Xue’s first serve and then ran through a quick serve of her own to jump on top, 2-0 in the third set. Xue got even, but on serve Mulla tallied again, and up 3-1, she reached a pivotal moment in the game when she returned an improbably shot in the next game that sailed over Xue’s head and landed just inside the line, winning the point to make it 4-1. Mulla jumped out from there, scoring winner after winner and taking the match, 6-1. That sent the CSI players spilling over the barriers and there to greet Mulla as CSI earned the gritty 5-4 on the same court that Baak clinched the Final on almost a year ago to the date.
The four-hour marathon of a match clinched CSI’s third championship final appearance in as many years. Two years ago the team fell to Hunter in the Final, before avenging that with a semifinal win over the Hawks last season en route to beating Brooklyn in the final.
The Championship Match is scheduled for this coming Wednesday, October 29, at 4pm. Tickets are FREE to the event, but are needed for admission. Tickets can be obtained via the CUNYAC website HERE. If you cannot make it to the game, a live statistical feed is available HERE.