Meet Belinda Niu. The hardworking, loud and fired-up senior tennis player who clinched victory for Northwestern over Michigan in the Big Ten title.
Like most students graduating from Northwestern, she’s not going to be a professional athlete. Instead, she’s going to work at Treacy & Co., a consulting firm in Chicago.
“I’ll miss competing so much,” she said. “Just being able to let all those emotions show on the court. I’m very loud and I really enjoy competing and getting really pumped up and fired up about things, and that’s something I won’t be able to do as much in life.”
But none of that mattered as she stared a 5-2 deficit in the final set of the final match of the Big Ten title in the face.
Going against Michigan’s top-ranked player, No. 22 Ronit Yurovsky, Niu was the deciding factor. Northwestern had erased what was once a 3-1 point deficit and brought it level after Lok Sze Leung and Nida Hamilton won their matches. Earlier in the season, when Niu played Yurovsky, the Wolverine came out on top.
“When you look at the scoreboard, it’s kind of like an ‘Oh shit’ moment,” Niu said. “I think this year, Lok Sze and Nida’s performances during my match really helped me get through.”
Niu kept her cool and pulled through, sealing the dramatic comeback victory.
“[The match was] not just the best match this year, but maybe the best match since I’ve been at Northwestern,” head coach Claire Pollard said.
But Niu had something on her side that her opponent didn’t: experience.
“The Big Ten Tournament was really special, I think, because that was one of the best moments I experienced freshman year,” she said. “Just being able to help the team clinch the final match and really just celebrating that victory.”
The situation her freshman year was nearly identical to the one in April. The team was down 3-0, playing Michigan – though that time at Michigan – and fought back to tie it up.
“I knew I had to finish it out for the win,” Niu said. “I was able to do that, so it was a really great moment for me, especially as a freshman.”
Now, with her final regular season completed and her last NCAA Tournament finished, she has taken some time to look back at her career.
“This year has been a really sentimental year because I’ve really reflected a lot on what tennis has meant to me throughout my life and how great of an experience I’ve had playing it in college,” she said.
She’ll retire after this year as one of the most celebrated Northwestern tennis players ever. She was named First-Team All-Big Ten all four years. Only five other people have done that in the school’s history.
Heading into her last series of competitive matches, Niu relished every point, especially the point that awarded a 100th career win this weekend. That consistency and power gave the team momentum heading into the tournament.
“On the court, we’re missing a tremendous competitor, someone who just puts it all out there,” Pollard said. “Off the court, I think Northwestern’s losing a student who has gotten a lot out of the experience. She has been a great advocate for what student-athletes are all about.”