Senior All-American Yana Koroleva shares her inside experiences from Clemson's victorious road trip to Notre Dame and Pittsburgh (March 6-9).
Koroleva is from Moscow, Russia and majors in Communications.
"One Step Away"
Hello again! We just came back from Pittsburgh and Notre Dame and are all very happy to see Clemson sunshine again! But the trip was lots of fun and I wanted to share our experiences as we played those two schools for the first time as conference opponents!
On Thursday morning we took a flight to South Bend, Indiana, and a little before landing we spotted snow on the ground. When we landed and walked outside baggage claim, the snow was everywhere. While the coaches were getting the cars, we ran to the gigantic snowdrifts, climbed them and took pictures! You don’t see 10-foot tall snowdrifts every day - might as well enjoy it!
On the way to practice we noticed that there were a lot of cool buildings and cathedrals at the university. Even though everything was covered with layers of snow, we could tell that the campus was very pretty. We asked if we could get closer to the campus buildings and take pictures with the historical Basilica Cathedral and coaches decided that we could do that next morning. After getting dinner and exploring South Bend a little, we headed to the hotel, which turned out to be absolutely amazing! My favorite part was the bathrobes in the rooms and waffle maker for breakfast! It took all the strength in the world not to take that bathrobe home, so I am proud of myself.
In the morning we had a short practice, drove around to see the cathedrals more and got lunch at Panera Bread. Panera is my absolute favorite place and if you never tried Fontina Grilled Cheese, you are missing out! Best pre-game meal you can possibly get! Coach Nancy held the usual team meeting after lunch and warned us that even though we never faced this team before, they are good and we had to stay focused and do the right things.
Notre Dame indoor facility has six courts, but it is split into two sides, so there are three courts on each side. I played in the middle court, No. 1, with No. 3 Bea (Beatrice Gumulya) and No. 5 Annie (Yuilynn Miao) next to me, but I could not see the other three courts and had no idea what the scores were there. We won the doubles point, but when the singles began, things got tight.
Annie lost her match, Bea dropped the first set and was tight in the second, while I lost first set and was 2-4 down in the second. I could hear the fans cheer for Notre Dame on the other side, which told me that matches must be pretty close there too. Things were not looking too good and I knew I needed to turn it all around if I didn’t want another “Harvard match.” (The 3-4 loss to #68 ranked Harvard was probably the worst and most painful loss of my college career)
I managed to turn my match around and win the second set and Bea did the same. We both had tight third sets and I noticed that some of our teammates came down to our side to cheer, but I had no idea if they had won or lost. I chose not to ask coaches what the scores were, just because I wanted no distractions.
Bea got to the third set tiebreaker and finally won her match, which turned out to be our clinching point. However, at that time I did not know that. I just knew that I was the last one left playing and I could have been the clinching point. I was two points away from losing the third set tiebreaker, but I managed to take those points and win the match. Only after I shook hands with the opponent and my teammates came to hug me I found out that we won 5-2. Phew. Close one.
The next day we traveled to Pittsburgh, hoping to make the 3:30 pm practice, but the flight delays got in our way. We ended up arriving a few hours later and headed straight to the hotel and dinner. Pittsburgh was way different than Notre Dame and Clemson! It is a big city, with big beautiful buildings, highways, bridges, churches and numerous stores.
We were riding in the car and just taking pictures. What a change of atmosphere after quiet Clemson life! We saw the Steelers stadium and had dinner at “Harris’s” grill. We suggested that it was probably named after Coach Harris, and she sure liked it! After dinner we talked about our goals for the match and prepared to wake up early, since the Daylight Savings time did not encourage an extra hour of sleep.
Match against Pittsburgh was not as nerve-racking as Notre Dame. We won the doubles point and girls were winning on all courts. Everybody else won in straight sets to put us at 6-0 against Pitt. The only one still playing was me. Usually I am the first one to be done, but this was the “marathon match” weekend for me. After winning first set, I lost second on a tiebreaker and had to play champions tie-breaker third set. My opponent had 2 match-points, but just like on Friday, I refused to lose and won 11-9 to close out the match. 7-0 for the Clemson Tigers!
This was a rough weekend with lots of traveling and playing, but it turned out to be very successful. This is the first year that Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are playing in the ACC and it was fun to explore these new locations in our conference. We had some tough close matches, but we got the wins, which only made us tougher.
I had two close matches where I was one step away from losing, but I think it was a great experience for me. Even though I did not have my best game on, I wanted to win and refused to give up. The result shows: If you want it bad enough, there is nothing you can’t do!
Next week we are going to Maryland and then flying down to Miami for a match against North Florida and Spring Break! Spring Break is only a week away and we are 5-0 in ACC - good reasons to be excited!