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Meeting the Moment

Meeting the Moment

by Carter Toole

STILLWATER, Okla. — It was the moment she had waited so long for and worked so hard for, but things were not going as planned for Alexa Noel.

Noel was down a set. Then she was down a break. In the NCAA Singles Championship. It was time to dig deep and meet the moment.

“I was just thinking that this could go one of two ways and I picked the harder way, but the better way,” she said. “I started to play tennis maybe a little more uncomfortable than I typically do. I started to step in a little bit more, took the ball a little bit earlier, changed the pace of the rally and the rhythm and I just stayed mentally tough and present.

“I just believed in myself that if this was going to go three sets, I could outlast anybody in the country.”

The match did go three sets, and Noel did prove she could outlast anybody in the country.

And after three-plus hours of pulsating, punishing tennis, Noel watched as one final ball came towards her and drifted towards the alley. It fell just wide and she fell to her knees. Match won. Moment won. She was the 2024 NCAA women’s singles champion.

Noel defeated Georgia’s Anastasiia Lopata 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 Saturday at Oklahoma State’s Greenwood Tennis Center. After falling behind 3-1 in the second set, she rallied to win 12 of the final 17 games, seemingly getting stronger as the match wore on in the sweltering Stillwater heat.

“Alexa is undoubtably one of the toughest competitors in the country,” head coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said. “She took it to another level today, to be able to flip that match physically, tactically, and emotionally on that stage says a lot about who she is and what she represents.”

Noel is now Miami’s third individual national champion, joining Audra Cohen (2007) and Estela Perez-Somarriba (2019).


The path to a national championship is a six-day gauntlet, one match following another and none of them the same. But the journey extends well beyond those six days in May. It starts in summer workouts, winds its way through the fall and hits its peak in the spring, where teams like Miami play a schedule that offers little relief. The journey hardens you, sharpens you and prepares you to push through situations meant to break you.

Saturday’s match was no different for Noel. It wasn’t easy. It rarely is in this sport. Noel had two points to take a 3-1 lead in the first set. But Lopata rallied to take the set 6-4. Then the Bulldog jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the second set with a deuce point on her serve to take a 4-1 lead. Noel won that point and closed the gap to 3-2.

“Stay stubborn,” her coach told her from the sidelines.

Noel obliged and kept battling. Facing a 5-4 deficit she held serve to keep the match going. Then she broke Lopata at 5-all and served out the second set.

“I don’t know if I was expecting three hours, but I definitely anticipated a long match,” Noel said. “She made a lot of balls, and it was a really physical match.”

And if it was stubbornness that won Noel the second set, then ruthlessness won her the third.

She took control of the match, equal parts conductor and assassin. She struck furious forehands with precision. She sliced backhands through the thick prairie air. She raced from side to side, chasing down every ball. She was patient when she needed to be, and she was decisive when it mattered most.

Noel broke twice to take a 5-2 lead before Lopata broke back to trim the deficit to 5-3. But Noel answered, outlasting Lopata on a 31-ball rally at deuce. The comeback was complete.

Yaroshuk-Tews has now coached three national champions. Three different women with different games, different styles and different personalities. But Cohen, Perez-Somarriba and Noel have one trait in common.

“Each one of them had a trust in me that you can’t put into words and vice versa,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “Audra, Estela and Alexa are three of the fiercest competitors around. They don’t want to lose a discussion, let alone a tennis match.  All three came into Miami with a desire to be the best and worked to build on that each day.

“We all have had very hard moments together and very hard discussions. It definitely isn’t always rainbows. When you win a national title it all makes sense. I’m grateful they never gave up on their process.”

And the newest member of this exclusive Canes club is just getting started.

“I’m here for a reason and this is exactly what I wanted,” Noel said. “We’re going to keep pushing through. This is not the end; this is hopefully the start.”

Alexa Noel talks to the media after winning the NCAA singles title.