Iolani alumna Tracie Chong of Rice served in her doubles match against Fresno State's Lucia Tallo and Jacqui Haskett.

’Dogs win fourth straight

Fresno State captured a record-tying fourth straight Western Athletic Conference women's tennis championship with a 4-0 sweep of top-seeded Rice yesterday at the UH Tennis Complex.

The Bulldogs (16-8) set the tone early by winning the doubles point. They then secured three singles victories to clinch the title.

When Rice (16-9), ranked 44th by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, was granted the top seed, it marked the first time since 2000 that Fresno State entered the WAC tournament without top billing.

But the Bulldogs (No. 53) ended the week in familiar fashion.

"It makes it sweeter than last year because we didn't come in as the favorite," FSU coach Simon Thibodeau said. "We played even better than last year's final. With the team we had and the injuries and the illnesses and what we've been through, it's a very satisfying title."

Fresno State's fourth consecutive championship ties the WAC record set by Brigham Young (1993-96). It was the Bulldogs' fifth championship overall, also tying the league record held by BYU.

Fresno State enters the NCAA regionals with an eight-match winning streak and has won its last 21 against WAC opponents.

After the Bulldogs picked up the doubles point by winning two matches by 8-3 scores, Fresno State players won the first set in five of the six singles matches.

Junior Katharina Winterhalter clinched the title by winning a second-set tiebreaker to defeat Rice's Blair DiSesa 7-5, 7-6 (2) in a duel of nationally ranked players.

"We really jumped on them in doubles and that gave us a lot of confidence," Winterhalter said.

Iolani graduate Tracie Chong was one point away from giving Rice its first point with a win over Lucia Sainz when Winterhalter closed out her match on the neighboring court.

Chong, Rice's lone senior, came back from losing the first set 7-5 to win the second 6-0 and led 6-5 in the third. She was at double match point when the outcome was rendered meaningless.

"Today, Fresno was a little better than us. But we're hoping to go to regionals and get a second shot at it," Chong said.

Chong won the state girls high school championship in 2001 and hoped her homecoming would result in another title.

But her doubles match was called after Fresno State secured the point, and she knew things weren't going well for the Owls in singles play either.

Fresno State's Lucia Tallo breezed past Kimberley Patenaude 6-0, 6-2, and Jacqui Haskett beat Christine Dao 6-3, 6-0 to put the Bulldogs firmly in control.

"I could tell we were down 3-0 and I fought my hardest to win and get us on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, we ran out of time," she said.

The Bulldogs retained the title despite losing sophomore Jelena Pandzic, a finalist at last year's NCAA singles tournament, in February due to an eligibility issue.

Fresno State was 8-8 on April 2 and hasn't lost since, reeling off five straight wins to close the regular season and rolling through the tournament.

"We really didn't care about whether we were seeded one or two," Winterhalter said. "We wanted that fourth one really bad."

WAC women's tennis championship

Fresno State 4, Rice 0
At UH Tennis Complex
Lucia Sainz/Courtney Jantz (FS) def. Kimberley Patenaude/Medeja Egic (Rice), 8-3; Tracie Chong/Dominique Karas (Rice) vs. Lucia Tallo/Jacqui Haskett (FS), DNF; Katharina Winterhalter/Fadzai Masiyazi (FS) def. Christine Dao/Blair DiSesa (Rice), 8-3.

Winterhalter def. DiSesa, 7-5, 7-6 (2); Tallo def. Patenaude, 6-0, 6-2; Chong vs. Sainz, DNF; Karas vs. Jantz, DNF; Haskett def. Dao, 6-3, 6-0; Egic vs. Masiyazi, DNF.

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