After winning its first seven matches to tie the school record for best start, the Texas A&M women’s tennis team came up short of breaking the record, suffering its first loss of the season in a 4-3 setback to the Rice Owls today at the George R. Brown Tennis Center.
The Aggies, playing on the road for the first time this season, dropped the doubles point for the first time this season as Rice stormed back to win the third and deciding match, and it proved to be costly. Rice won the first match to be completed as Priya Niezgoda and Anna Bowtell led the entire match in a 6-2 victory over A&M’s Iulia Ivascu and Macarena Olivares at the No. 2 line. The A&M freshman duo of Dorthea Faa-Hviding and Riley McQuaid evened the race to the doubles point with a 6-2 win over Savannah Durkin and Michaela Haet at No. 3.
The crucial point came down to the No. 1 line where A&M’s Domenica Gonzalez and Eva Paalma jumped out to a 5-0 lead against 17th-ranked Wendy Zhang and Lindsey Hodge. The Rice tandem then got on track and rallied to win the next seven games to win the pivotal match, 7-5, and give the Owls a 1-0 lead.
Gonzalez, ranked a career-high No. 87 in the national singles rankings, improved to 8-0 in singles and evened the team score at 1-1 as she defeated Hodge, 6-4, 6-1, at the No. 1 line.
Rice, which had won the first set on four of six courts, took a 2-1 lead as Durkin held off Ivascu, 7-6, 6-1, at No. 5. Haet then put the Owls ahead, 3-1, with a 6-2, 7-5 victory at No. 3 over Paalma, who entered the match, 7-0.
The remaining three courts would battle through three sets, with the overall victor being decided in the last match standing.
Olivares overcame a 6-4 first-set loss to Zhang at No. 2, winning the first three games of the second set and never trailing the remainder of the match to keep the Aggies’ hopes alive. The second set was tied at 4-4 when Olivares won back-to-back games to win the frame, 6-4, and force the third set. Olivares also jumped out to a 3-0 led in the final set and went on to win, 6-2, to improve to 8-0 on the season and put the Aggies within 3-2.
McQuaid also made a comeback at No. 4 to improve to 8-0 and even the team score, 3-3. Fernanda Astete took the opening set, 6-3, but like Olivares, McQuaid jumped out to 3-0 leads in each of the final two sets and went on to win them, 6-4, 6-2.
All eyes then turned to No. 6 singles where Faa-Hviding was threatening Bowtell’s seven-match winning streak and unblemished 2-0 dual match record. The opening set was closely contested and went to tiebreaker. Bowtell jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker, but Faa-Hviding raced back and tied the score at 4-4. The players then began to trade points. Bowtell fought off set points at 7-6 and 8-7 before Faa-Hviding put together back-to-back points to win the tiebreaker, 10-8, and take the set, 7-6. Bowtell, however, took control of the second set, winning the first five games en route to a 6-1 victory to force a third set. Bowtell carried the momentum into the final set, jumping out to a 4-1 lead. Faa-Hviding got within 4-2 and 5-3 but was unable to overcome the deficit as Bowtell won the set, 6-3, to clinch the match for the Owls, who improved to 4-2.
A&M stays on the road for the next two matches, taking on SMU in Dallas on Saturday at 12 p.m. and TCU in Fort Worth at 1 p.m. on Sunday before returning home to close out the preconference schedule against Central Florida on Sunday Feb. 25 at the Mitchell Tennis Center.