Flashback Friday looks at the top moments from the 2014-15 athletic year at the College of Staten Island. This week we reflect on the 4th-highest moment of the past year, when the CSI Women’s Tennis team repeated as CUNYAC Champions in late-October. The Dolphins defeated Hunter College, 5-4, using a monumental comeback by Michelle Kushnir to clinch the affair that lasted nearly five hours and survived a venue change smack in the middle of play.
#4 – Women’s Tennis – Marathon Finish Clinches CUNYAC Championship
Date: October 29, 2014
Who: CSI Women’s Tennis Team
Where: Flushing, NY
What Happened: The defending CUNYAC Champions were the challengers at this year’s CUNYAC Final, having lost to top-seeded Hunter College during the regular season, 7-2, but the team had high hopes in securing another title, and used a dramatic night in Flushing as a backdrop to one of the top highlights from the past athletic year. CSI fell behind, 1-0, in doubles play before stringing together two hard-fought wins at Nos. 1-2 Doubles to take a 2-1 lead. All of the singles flights then started outdoors at the National Tennis Center in Flushing before the rains swept in and suspended play. CUNYAC officials then moved the match to nearby Queens College, using the venue’s four indoor courts after a near hour break. Hunter used the break to seize momentum, winning three of the next four flights to take a commanding, 4-3, edge. CSI’s Madiha Mulla then came from way behind to score wins in straight sets, 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), in her flight to make it 4-4, and all eyes then shifted to the No. 5 position, where CSI’s Michelle Kushnir was dead-locked with Paula Szegda. Kushnir took the first set rather quickly, 6-2, but Szegda returned the favor with a 6-2 win of her own in set two, making for a winner-take-all third set. Kushnir promptly fell behind, 5-1, and with full momentum and a huge lead, Hunter seemed poised for the win. But Kushnir had other plans, and slowly fought back to tie twice, forcing a 6-6 tiebreak. There, Kushnir assumed full control, and won the tiebreak, 7-1. Mobbed by her teammates, the exhausted team survived the five-hour encounter by hoisting the CUNYAC trophy for the fifth time in school history.
Looking back…with Michelle Kushnir
During the season, you lost to Hunter, 7-2. What gave the team the confidence to make it a different result in the championship? Our loss to Hunter during the regular season didn’t phase us. In our minds, we just knew that we could win the championship. Our team was strong and determined, and we never stopped improving. I think our drive to better ourselves is what got us so far.
During the match, there was a suspension due to rain and there was a lengthy delay, followed by a pick-up of activity indoors. Tell me a little bit about that break, and how the team was able to stay composed physically and mentally during that time? The break seemed like it lasted forever. Even though the first set was going well for me, I kept thinking “Something can still go wrong.” What I really appreciated was how the entire team was helping each other stay positive through out the break, and that support definitely benefited all of us when we got back on the courts.
At the time you were deep into your singles match, the team was down 4-3 and needed wins from you and Madiha. Were you aware of what was happening, or did you simply think about yourself at that point? I became aware of how close our game got when I saw Sabrina, the captain of our team, look absolutely defeated after her match. That’s when I realized that things were not going well for us, and that I needed to pull myself together for my team. That’s when the pressure really set in.
You win your first set, then lose the second, and by the time the match is tied at 4-4, you are down a huge margin in the third set. How do you focus on staying in the moment and getting back in the match? Are you looking to score winners, or are you simply trying to extend volleys? Tell me a bit about your gameplan. When the set got to 5 – 1, and one more point would have made Hunter the 2014 Champions, I immediately went into autopilot. I remember no longer thinking about what type of strategy could get me back in the game, I just kept hitting the ball back. I became consistent with this mentality, and before I knew it, we were tied at 5 – 5. I’m still shocked at how I got there, but from there, I wasn’t letting anything get to me anymore.
What was it like having all of those eyes on your court, your teammates cheering your every point, knowing it’s all coming down to you? At first, it was nerve-wracking, especially during the second set. They were watching me lose my momentum, and I knew that I was disappointing them. Regardless of my setback, they continued to support me, and then having all eyes on me didn’t bother me anymore. I started to forget that everyone was watching my match, eventually feeling as if I was the only one on the court, and that’s when I started to get my rhythm back.
You took over momentum in that match obviously, at what point in the set did you feel you could win and clinch your team a championship? When my opponent and I got tied at 6 – 6, and we began playing the tiebreaker, I knew I could win. I got my momentum back, and I knew exactly what I had to do at that point. I continued to play with the same mentality, to just hit the ball back, and it worked. I won the tiebreaker 7 – 1, finally winning the CUNYAC Championship for the second time in two years.
You were pretty emotional after the win. Tell me a little bit about how it felt afterwards…how it still feels today? After working hard every single day to improve my game, it was the best feeling in the world to accomplish such a feat. I put a lot of time into tennis, and being able to win that match for my team was extremely overwhelming, considering I never thought I’d be able to do something like that. It reassured me that my hard work paid off, and I was just so happy that I was able to pull through for my team. After that match, I couldn’t even think about it for months because it would bring back too many emotions. Now, it reminds me of what I am capable of, and pushes me to do my best.