A day before No. 27 Syracuse and No. 35 Wichita State were to play in the NCAA Tournament, Gabriela Knutson, Syracuse's top women's tennis player and the fifth-ranked singles player in the country, told Syracuse's student newspaper "it will be embarrassing" if Syracuse doesn't beat Wichita State.
It was ready-made bulletin-board material for the underdog Shockers, but coach Colin Foster decided against using it as a motivational ploy before Friday morning's match in Oxford, Miss.
"I knew we were ready and motivated enough," Foster said. "I didn't want that to be a distraction."
Foster's intuition proved correct, as WSU defeated Syracuse, 4-1, including two wins over Knutson on Friday to win its first NCAA Tournament match in Foster's nine years and just its second in program history (and first since 2007). The Shockers have qualified for the NCAA Tournament the last 10 years.
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WSU will face the winner between No. 5 Mississippi and Missouri State in the second round on Saturday at 1 p.m. Central time.
"We've been close the last four years and we've been right there against good teams before," Foster said. "It feels good to finally get over that hump. It's a great win for these girls and our program."
The tone was set when WSU won the doubles point to start the match.
Knutson and her partner were ranked No. 8 in the country, but WSU's Fatima Bizhukova and Marta Bellucco took them down, 6-4. The Shockers secured the point when Gabriela Porubin and Sarvinoz Saidhujaeva won their match, 6-1.
"We're a good doubles team and we've prided ourselves on that over the years," Foster said. "I think our players do a good job of buying into what we ask them to do. That was big for us to go out and beat a top-10 doubles team."
The top of WSU's singles lineup got the job done. Sandra Honigova made quick work of Syracuse's Sofya Golubovskaya, 6-2, 6-0, in the No. 3 singles slot, as did Giulia Guidetti to Miranda Ramirez, 6-2, 6-2, in No. 2 singles.
The final match of the day ended up being Knutson, Syracuse's fifth-ranked singles player, against WSU's No. 72-ranked Bizhukova. It didn't take long for Bizhukova to win in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3, to secure the winning fourth point for WSU.
"Fatima has shown all season she's capable of winning matches on that level," Foster said. "She really played a composed match. I thought our whole team did across the board. We never got too high or too low. We just kept the foot on the gas."
There was no wild celebration, no yelling or screaming in victory. Even after a monumental victory, WSU's players were calm and composed.
They're ready for their next challenge, even if it is a top-five-ranked team on their home court on Saturday.
"We can only control what we can control," Foster said. "Certainly Ole Miss has earned their ranking, but this is also the first time for all of their current players to be in this situation and have these kind of expectations. We've got nothing to lose and all of the pressure is going to be on their players. We'll be ready to go out there and enjoy it and give it our best shot."