For three years, Miho Kowase thought about getting this redemption in her family’s name.
Francesca Di Lorenzo wanted the NCAA women’s doubles title in part to make up for a disappointing showing in singles.
This afternoon in Athens, Ga., Kowase and Di Lorenzo got what they wanted by winning the first NCAA title in Ohio State women’s tennis history. After splitting the first two sets 6-7 (6) and 6-4, Kowase and Di Lorenzo defeated Alabama’s Maddie Pothoff and Erin Routliffe 10-7 in the decisive super-tiebreak.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Kowase, a senior from Tokyo.
Three years ago, also in Athens, her sister Maho reached the doubles final playing for Georgia. She and her partner lost 6-1, 6-0 to an Alabama team that included Routliffe.
“I told myself that hopefully one day I can come back and like my sister play (in the finals) and get revenge against them,” Kowase said, “and I was able to do that.”
The Buckeyes trailed 6-5 in the decisive super-tiebreak after leading 3-0. But they won the next four points to reach championship point. Alabama staved off one match point, but with Di Lorenzo serving, Alabama hit a forehand long on the next one.
“We knew they had big serves and play very aggressively,” Ohio State coach Melissa Schaub said. “We tried to stay steady and play our game and play with confidence.”
It was the third time in five NCAA doubles matches that Di Lorenzo and Kowase won in a first-to-10-points super-tiebreak, which is played instead of a third set.
Di Lorenzo and Kowase were unseeded and ranked 18th entering the tournament. But seeding can be a double-edged sword. Di Lorenzo, a sophomore from New Albany, was seeded first in singles and lost in the first round.
“It was a big disappointment,” she said. “I just put a lot of pressure on myself. I thought about this tournament every day for the past two months. That doesn’t really help. I just did not play my game at all.
“For me to redeem myself (in doubles), I’m really happy with that, and to do it with Miho is really nice.”
Kowase is part of a senior class that resurrected a program that had fallen into mediocrity. Last week, the Buckeyes reached the semifinals of the NCAA team tournament for the first time before losing to Stanford.
“It’s a good way to finish off the season for us,” Di Lorenzo said. “Our whole team has had such a good season. This trophy is for all of us. We wouldn’t be here without the team.”
For Kowase, it’s a storybook ending to her career. She expects to graduate in December before returning to Japan.
“There’s no one who deserves it more than Miho,” Schaub said. “She’s given her heart and soul to this program and this team. For her to play her last match in an Ohio State uniform and walk off the court as a national champion, that’s just an unbelievable feeling for her.”