Tiger tennis picks up first Big 12 win

The Tigers beat KU in a packed Green Tennis Center.
Junior Kaitlyn Ritchie backhands the ball Friday night at the Green Tennis Center against Kansas. Missouri lost to Kansas 5-2.

The Missouri tennis team's first conference win of the season might have been a long time coming, but it couldn't have come against a more fitting opponent. In front of a large crowd at the Green Tennis Center, the Tigers edged rival Kansas on Friday 4-3.

The Tigers got off to a fast start in doubles play when Missouri swept the three matches to take the doubles point. Juniors Mallory Weber and Kaitlyn Ritchie continued their success in the No. 1 doubles spot, taking Kansas' highly regarded top pairing of sophomores Ekaterina Morozova and Erin Wilbert by a score of 8-3.

For Missouri coach Blake Starkey, his team's sweep in doubles put an end to a baffling drought in that department. "My intention is that we're always going to sweep doubles," Starkey said. "There have just been too many times this year where you're wondering 'What's going on? This just doesn't compute.' I think we played really good doubles tonight."

In singles, Missouri continued its success by jumping out to a 3-0 lead with two early victories. The first to finish off her opponent was Weber, who defeated freshman Sara Lazarevic 6-3, 6-2. Her result was quickly followed by sophomore Jamie Mera's 6-3, 6-4 victory in the No. 3 spot.

Still, the Jayhawks didn't go down without a fight. Kansas took the next two matches as Missouri freshman Maria Christensen fell at No. 4, and Ritchie lost a three-set match at No. 1.

With the score close at 3-2, the scene was set for Missouri freshman Andrea Lewis to clinch the victory for the Tigers. With the raucous crowd cheering her on, Lewis defeated Wilbert after a marathon rally ended with Wilbert hitting the ball into the net. In a unique scene, teammates and fans alike rushed onto the court to congratulate Lewis and celebrate the victory.

"As a freshman, this is the biggest atmosphere I've been a part of," Lewis said. "It's all excitement, relief and a lot of joy."

Billed as fan appreciation day, the impact of the large crowd on the match was evident throughout. With chants of "M-I-Z, Z-O-U" and cheers after every point, the bleachers were shaking at times. Weber acknowledged the fans' effect on the Tigers.

"The crowd helped us so much," Weber said. "It was so loud in here, and they were energetic the whole time. The more noise we can get in here the better."

Sunday, the Tigers moved to the outdoor courts to take on Kansas State. After a slow start in the bottom two doubles positions, the Tigers didn't have the success in singles to recover and came out on the wrong end of a 5-2 decision.

Still, with the win over Kansas on Friday under their belt, the Tigers have a positive outlook moving forward.

"You look at Army and Navy," Starkey said. "No matter what kind of year those teams are having, they can make their season with a win against the other. I'm not saying beating Kansas makes our year, but it makes it feel a heck of a lot better than it has up to this point."

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