Confident after a three-match win streak, the No. 75-ranked University of Wisconsin women’s tennis team (5-6, 0-0) has gained some momentum in recent weeks that will prove vital in their match against the top-ranked Northwestern Wildcats (9-1, 0-0) Wednesday at the Nielsen Tennis Stadium.The Badgers’ last three wins have all been non-conference victories over in-state rival Marquette, Missouri and Oklahoma, with only the Marquette match being played in Madison. As a result, Wisconsin head coach Brian Fleishman likes his team’s current mindset.“We’re in a good place right now,” Fleishman said. “We’ve won three matches pretty well. I think the girls realize that they can get the win, so they have an attitude now that they know that they can win — now they just have to accept the challenge of the competition we’re getting ready to face with the Big Ten season coming upon us.”Wednesday’s match marks the beginning of conference play in the Big Ten, and the Wildcats will certainly provide tough competition. Ranked at the top of the nation for the entire season, Northwestern has lost only once — a close 4-3 loss to No. 6 Duke Feb. 28. The Badgers know they will be tested, but they are embracing the opportunity.“We’re going to go out there and play really hard,” senior Liz Carpenter said. “We’re on our home court, so that’s an advantage, and we’ve been playing well — we’re just going out there and competing our hardest.”The Badgers have drawn a lot of their confidence from the play of Carpenter and her freshman doubles partner, Angela Chupa. Together, the two have amassed a record of 3-3 thus far and are the No. 40 doubles team in the nation. Perhaps more significantly, Carpenter and Chupa are also the first ranked members of the Wisconsin women’s tennis team in over two years.“It means a lot,” Chupa said about being ranked this year. “Being a freshman and being able to play with Liz, who’s an experienced doubles player — this is her last season and she wants to make everything of it — so it’s a pleasure for me to play with someone who really wants to go out with a bang, and I think we have potential to do really well the rest of the season.”Last Friday, Carpenter and Chupa exhibited their talent as a doubles pair, defeating Oklahoma 8-6 in a tiebreaker. Saturday, Chupa exhibited her prowess in the singles game, as she won her sixth singles match of the season over Tara Eckel in straight sets, 6-2, 6-1. The victory moved Chupa’s weekend record to 4-0 in both singles and doubles competition.Fleishman acknowledged his team’s confidence is improving every match, and sees the Northwestern match as an enticing opportunity to witness the Badgers at their best.“Anytime you play great competition, you tend to play a little bit freer in your swing,” Fleishman said. “The team has the ‘nothing to lose, everything to gain’ attitude, and I think you actually play better tennis that way.”With the Big Ten season finally getting underway, the Wisconsin women are aware they are entering the stretch run of the season. Following the Northwestern match, the Badgers will host No. 44 Indiana and No. 33 Illinois in a span of three days, and then embark on a three-match road trip beginning in South Florida. Still, the team has high expectations going into Wednesday’s match.“I expect to do well in the Big Ten (season), and I would love to go NCAAs for doubles with Liz, we just need to get our ranking up a little more,” Chupa said. “I really like playing doubles with her, and I think it would be a great opportunity for us to go to NCAAs.”Not surprisingly, Carpenter echoed her teammate’s goal of making the NCAA Championships at the end of the year. The NCAAs are the ultimate goal for every team in the nation, and Coach Fleishman sees no reason why his team is any different, just as long as the players stay confident.“Everybody here works hard — that’s not our issue,” Fleishman said. “Our only issue now is believing that we can win these matches. We just have to have the belief that we will win.”
Hannah Berner is used to change.Ever since moving from a tennis academy in Florida to a high school in New York, where she played on the boy’s tennis team, she has learned how to take on challenges with a competitive edge. This was on display last weekend at the Duke Invitational in Cary, N.C., where after losing her first set (6-0), she won in consecutive sets (6-2, 6-2) to win the match.Berner rallied and overpowered her opponent, Taylor Marable of Princeton, to earn the victory. She had Wisconsin’s best singles performance in the tournament, placing sixth in her section. But the sophomore’s impressive play was not limited to singles either. Berner and her partner Alaina Trgovich placed third in their doubles section.“One of the reasons that my coach, Brian Fleishman, recruited me was for my doubles play, because I love volleying against the net, although singles has always been a bit difficult for me,” Berner said.Berner has worked hard over the off-season at mastering the nuances and positioning of singles play, and now says that it’s just as strong as her doubles play. Fleishman, the head women’s tennis coach at UW, praised Burner’s performance“I thought she did an extremely good job in singles and doubles,” Fleishman said. “She’s come a long way, and I think all the hard work she put in this summer has really paid off.”Berner has more goals for herself than just playing well individually, as she wants to emerge as a leader for her team.“I think I’ve changed my position on the team, in terms of being more of a leader my sophomore year,” she said. “As a freshman, I was still a little confused and a little lost on how the whole team atmosphere works.”One of the more promising aspects of Berner’s game is her ability to settle in and evaluate her opponent’s style. Much of tennis involves understanding your opponent and playing against their weaknesses. To understand how Berner does this so well, a brief glimpse at her past may help.She played and excelled as a teenager at a tennis academy in Florida, where she attempted to go pro. However, she decided to leave Florida for New York, where she would play on the boy’s high school tennis team, because there was no girls team there.“When I was in Florida, I was playing tennis for six hours a day, and that became extremely intense for a 14, 15, 16 year old. I think I kind of lost a little bit of passion for the game,” Berner said.Berner said that her experiences have given her a greater perspective on balance in life. This perspective has enabled her to balance academics with collegiate athletics. “I cannot stress enough how much stress it is to keep up,” Berner said.It’s especially difficult, because she says that the UW women’s tennis team is one of the hardest working teams in the nation. And with four freshmen coming on to the team this year, fierce competition is in place just to get a spot playing in tournaments.Despite finishing ninth in the Big Ten last year, Berner believes that the new recruits and new attitude could make UW a top team in the conference.“I think that the new recruits could be what pushes us over, and we’re gonna try to be in the top four of the Big Ten. That’s our goal,” she said.
A spirited second half comeback from the Red Devils of Congo was thwarted by a last minute goal from Jordan Ayew as they shared honors with the Black Stars of Ghana on the grand opening of the magnificent Kintele stadium in Brazzaville.Goals from Harrison Afful and Richmond Boakye Yiadom put Avram Grant’s team on the front foot in the first half against their Congolese counterparts but they almost gave the game away as Claude Le Roy and his wards mounted a remarkable second half comeback.Grant was forced to draft in T.P Mazembe’s Daniel Nii Adjei and defender Lawrence Lartey from the Black Meteors to start the game against Claude Le Roy’s side and both players had an impact in the outcome especially Nii Adjei who operated well from midfield. With several key players rested on the bench,several of Grant’s starting line up were keen to make an impression on the boss as the Black Stars laid siege to the Congolese defensive third,creating chance after chance.The first of such chances was taken by defender and stand-in captain Harrison Afful who took advantage of lax defending to take advantage of Congo’s goalkeeper Mafoumbi.Nii Adjei’s influence was growing and he was behind the second goal as a thunderous drive from him was saved but fell to Richmond boakye Yiadom who scored his fifth international goal for the Black Stars in the 18th minute.Ghana rung the changes in the second half with Fatau Dauda replacing Razak Braimah in goal while Jordan Ayew also made an appearance. It was Congo however who grew stronger as the half wore on and they pulled a goal back in the 60th minute through Moubhio. With the partisan home crowd cheering them on,Congo poured forward in droves as Fatau Dauda and his defence worked to preserve Ghana’s lead. Avram Grant also replaced midfielder Bernard Mensah with Asamoah Gyan in a bid to stall the Congolese onslaught but it all came to nigh as the Congolese found the equaliser in the 85th minute through Dore.Jordan Ayew who had endured a week to forget after the story of his affair with team mate Afriyie Acquah’s wife was leaked came to the rescue of the team as he poked in an injury time winner to ensure Ghana will head off into its AFCON qualifier agaisnt Rwanda on September 5 full of confidence. –Follow Joy Sports on Twitter: @Joy997FM. Our hashtag is #JoySports