BERKELEY, Calif. -- On a day when the Saint Mary's women's tennis team had to rally to earn a victory, it seemed only right that the clinching point itself came in comeback fashion.
No. 1 singles player Jenny Jullien provided the match-winning point and the Gaels came back from two points down to beat UNLV 5-2 in the first round of the ITA Kick-Off Weekend at Cal.
Saint Mary's (1-0) now moves on to the championship on Monday against the host Bears. The match will begin no earlier than 1 p.m. at Hellman Tennis Complex. The winner will qualify for the ITA Team Indoor Championships in Virginia next month.
"The girls showed a lot of character today. It was a great rebound after a disappointing doubles (session)," Saint Mary's coach Lisa Alipaz said. "We're definitely looking forward to tomorrow."
The Gaels found themselves trailing by a point after the doubles portion of Sunday's match. Jullien and Audrey Leitz actually finished first, cruising to an 8-0 win over Janine Erasmus and Anett Ferenczi-Bako at No. 3 doubles.
That was the only doubles match Saint Mary's would win though, as UNLV won at No. 1 and 2 to earn the early point.
All was not lost. The Gaels gave themselves hope early in the singles session by taking the first set in four of the six matches.
UNLV pushed its lead to two with a straight-sets win at No. 2 singles, but it didn't take long for Saint Mary's to get on the board when Danielle Flores finished off a 7-5, 6-2 win over Nives Pavlovic at No. 3.
Catherine Leduc was next to score for the Gaels, earning a 6-4, 6-3 win over Iren Kotseva at No. 5. Audrey Leitz followed with a 6-2, 6-4 win against Ella Bourchier at No. 6, and suddenly Saint Mary's had a 3-2 lead with two matches still on court.
One of those matches was at No. 1 singles, where Jullien dropped the first set 4-6 to No. 20-ranked Aleksandra Josifoska.
Jullien was far from finished. She roared back in the second, and finished a 6-2 set victory with an ace to extend the match.
The native of Perpignan, France kept battling in the third set, turning frequently to her backhand for winners up the line. A simple volley finished things, and Jullien walked away with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 win to clinch a Gaels win for the first time.
"First set, I was pretty tense but in the second set I relaxed a lot and was very aggressive. I took the ball early and came to the net," Jullien said. "In the third, I was kind of tired but I could see she was also tired. I just tried to fight the entire way."
The win continued Jullien's impressive run to begin the spring season. Ranked No. 64 in the country to begin the spring, Jullien has started her season 3-0. All three wins have come over players ranked in the top 30 nationally, and include victories over No. 9 Anett Schutting of Cal and No. 26 Katie Le of Santa Clara.
Knowing they had the win in hand, the Gaels lined up alongside court four and cheered as Jade Frampton put a cap on a successful day with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Erasmus.
Saint Mary's finishes play at the ITA Kick-Off on Monday, then travels to San Diego to play Washington and San Diego State next weekend. The Gaels make their home debut against Cal Poly on Feb. 10 at 11 a.m.
ITA Kick-Off Weekend
At Hellman Tennis Complex, Berkeley, Calif.
Saint Mary's 5, UNLV 2
1. Lucia Batta/Nives Pavlovic (UNLV) d. Catherine Isip/Elizabeth Searl 8-5
2. Aleksandra Josifoska/Iren Kotseva (UNLV) d. Danielle Flores/Jade Frampton 8-4
3. Jenny Jullien/Audrey Leitz (SMC) d. Janine Erasmus/Anett Ferenczi-Bako 8-0
* UNLV wins doubles point
1. Jullien d. Josifoska 4-6, 6-2, 6-3
2. Batta d. Isip 6-2, 6-1
3. Flores d. Pavlovic 7-5, 6-2
4. Frampton d. Erasmus 6-2, 3-6, 6-1
5. Catherine Leduc (SMC) d. Kotseva 6-4, 6-3
6. Leitz d. Ella Bourchier 6-2, 6-4.
Order of finish: 2, 3, 5, 6, 1, 4.