UW-Eau Claire women’s tennis team makes history

    The Blugolds fared well at ITA Regionals and Gustie Fall Invite


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    Only a sophomore, Natalie Wijesinghe is an instrumental component on the UW-Eau Claire women’s tennis team. This weekend, Wijesinghe fought her way into two semi-final rounds at the ITA Regionals.

    The UW-Eau Claire women’s tennis team had a historic performance at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s (ITA) Midwest Regional Championships and the Gustie Fall Invite this past weekend at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Paul.

    Specifically, the Blugold pairing of Natalie Wijesinghe, a sophomore, and Sarah Henderson, a senior, made history by being the first Eau Claire players to advance to semifinals in both singles and doubles play at ITA Regionals.

    As a duo, Wijesinghe and Henderson entered the ITA Regionals as the No. 2 seed. After a first round bye and victories against Sheila Sulivan and Laura Martin of Gustavus (8-2), and Faith Yim and Elizabeth Yim of Carleton (8-1), the pair advanced to semifinals on Saturday, where they were defeated by Bridget Bellissimo and Sadie Spahn of UW-La Crosse (8-3).

    Wijesinghe, ranked No. 4 in singles draw, visited the semifinals again on Sunday, this time flying solo.

    Wijesinghe earned her way into the semifinals with four wins. She defeated Lily Hamilton of Grinnell (7-5, 6-3); Ashley Solberg of Concordia University Wisconsin (6-3, 6-3); Ginger Valentine of Gustavus (7-5, 6-0); Bridgid McGuire of UW-Whitewater (6-1, 7-6).

    Ultimately, Wijesinghe fell to Jillian Wallace of UW-Whitewater (6-3, 7-5).

    Head Coach Tom Gillman said he was pleased with the team’s efforts this weekend and proud of both Wijesinghe and Henderson for reaching the semi-finals.

    “It’s hard,” Gillman said. “There’s a lot of other people that want to get there (the semifinals).”

    Hanna Zevenbergen, an Eau Claire sophomore, said she was very proud of her teammates.

    “They never gave up,” Zevenbergen said. “You could see that they were always happy to be out there and never in their mind doubted that they deserved to be there.”

    Zevenbergen herself was successful in the Gustie Fall Invite, the tournament held alongside the ITA Regionals. Zevenbergen earned the singles draw No. 1 champion title.

    “It was very rewarding to know that all my hard work was paying off,” Zevenbergen said. “My teammates were very supportive. Every match I played, I had fun.”

    Also in the Gustie Fall Invite, Kendra Berry and Hannah Koch were draw No. 4 champions.

    Over the course of the weekend, the team faced competition from 29 other Midwestern universities and colleges, including UW-Whitewater, an opponent the Blugolds previously met on Sept. 9.

    Molly Stewart, the junior team captain, said her experience from prior matches against UW-Whitewater came in handy this weekend.

    “They’re (Whitewater) one of the toughest teams in the conference and I think that match really helped us prepare for this weekend,” Stewart said.

    Gillman said he believes this preparation led the team to fruition.

    “I did see some changes,” Gillman said. “I thought we had more composure. We did a good job in close matches. We managed ourselves well.”

    Moving ahead, Zevenbergen said she will use the team’s results from the weekend as fuel for future growth.

    “We can expect a lot more from ourselves than we even thought we could,” Zevenbergen said.

    In their next competition, Blugold women’s tennis will host UW-River Falls at 2 p.m. on Oct. 4.