©Colette Lewis 2012--
Defending champion and No. 2 seed Florida advanced to the NCAA Division I team semifinals with routine victories Saturday at the Dan Magill Tennis Center, but their opponents Monday afternoon, Duke and Southern California, added considerably more drama to the proceedings on a picture-perfect day on the campus of the University of Georgia.
The last time the championships were in Athens, in 2010, the Stanford women returned to California with the title, but the Cardinal will not play in their third straight final after falling to Pac-12 rival USC 4-2 on the McWhorter courts Saturday afternoon.
The fifth-seeded Women of Troy captured the doubles point with an 8-6 victory by Danielle Lao and Alison Ramos over Kristie Ahn and Veronica Li at No. 3, after Stanford's Stacey Tan and Ellen Tsay had beaten Valeria Pulido and Zoe Scandalis 8-5 at 2, and Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria had beaten the nation's second-ranked team, Stanford's Nicole Gibbs and Mallory Burdette, 8-6 at No. 1.
The fourth-seeded Cardinal seemed to brush off the loss of the doubles point and posted five first sets in singles. Gibbs gave Stanford its first point with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Scandalis at 1, but Southern Cal began its comeback when Gabriella DeSimone's 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 win at 5 over Tsay made it 2-1.
Stanford pulled even when Li beat Pulido 6-4, 7-5 at 6, but USC had forced third sets at 2 and 3, with Ahn, making her first singles appearance in two months, and Christian deep in the second set at 4.
With the three matches still in progress all together, the fans of both teams could focus their energy in one direction if not on one court.
Santamaria trailed Tan 5-2 in the third set on court 3, and Tan served for the match at 5-3, but she was broken, while Christian earned a third set against Ahn. On court 2, Lao and Burdette were at 3-3 in the third, so any number of scenarios could play out in the next minutes or, perhaps, the next hour.
Santamaria broke Tan, winning her fourth straight game to make it 6-5, and she had a match point at 40-30, but a rare unforced error on the forehand made it deuce and a net cord winner by Tan and a forehand error by Santamaria sent the match into a tiebreaker.
With Santamaria leading Tan 4-2 in the third set tiebreaker, Lao got a break of Burdette and would serve for the match at 5-4. She took a 30-0 lead with a forehand and overhead winner, while Santamaria nosed ahead 5-4 in the tiebreaker. Southern Cal was two points away from victory on both courts, and yet nothing was truly decided. Lao went up 40-15, but didn't convert on her first match point, putting a backhand long.
Next to her, Santamaria wrong-footed Tan to take a 6-5 lead. As quickly as their supporters could turn their heads from one match to the next, Burdette netted a backhand to give Lao a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory and Santamaria coaxed an error from Tan for a 7-5, 1-6, 7-6(5) win and the fourth point.
"I just love playing next to D-Lao," said Santamaria, a freshman. "She just keeps me focused, always cheering me on even when she's battling with Mallory or anyone else...I had to come through for my team today, and just kept my focus on that and kept trying and kept fighting, fought on."
Lao, a junior, returned the compliments.
"The thing is, that Sabs says it's great to play next to me, but I really think it's great to play next to her," Lao said. "I think Sabs is very mature as a freshman, and for me, it puts a lot of pressure off me. Even down 5-2, I saw the scoreboard, and I knew it wasn't over, there was no chance it was over. When she got to 5-3, I thought, she's going to climb all the way back and I want to be right there, in my opponent's face, ready to pop her too."
Coach Richard Gallien credited his team's effort and fortitude for the win, which took over four hours from start to finish.
"Not letting go of the rope is one of our expressions, and any weakness on our part, and we would have gotten beat, and nobody could have said a word, because they are so tough," Gallien said. "When it came down to the crunch, and there was absolutely no margin for error, the girls anted up, and they deserve all the credit."
Stanford coach Lele Forood called it a "great battle and an amazing match. I don't think anyone knew the outcome until it ended. It was just a pretty amazing roller coaster. Obviously we knew how good they were, we've seen them a lot this year, and we knew they have people who make a lot of balls and play really tough."
Southern Cal already knew they would play another familiar team in the semifinals, they just weren't sure if it would be No. 9 seed Cal or UCLA. They will face the top-seeded Bruins for the fourth time this year in Monday's semifinal, after UCLA dominated the Bears in the bottom three spots and came away with a 4-1 victory.
UCLA claimed the doubles point with wins at the 2 and 3 courts, and took five first sets in singles. They were able to maintain those leads, which were substantial ones, especially at the No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 courts. Skylar Morton gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead, with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Tayler Davis at 4, while Zsofi Susanyi posted Cal's first and only point with a 6-2, 6-1 win over McCall Jones at 2. Carling Seguso, subbing for an injured Kaitlyn Ray, won her match at 6 over Alice Duranteau 6-2, 6-4, and with Chanelle Van Nguyen up 6-1, 5-0 over Annie Goransson, it looked as if she would provide the final point. But Van Nguyen didn't convert her match point, and it was Pamela Montez at 3 who put the Bruins into the semifinals, defeating Anett Schutting 6-3, 6-4.
"We set the tone really early in the doubles and I think that got everyone to relax, and the energy was really, really high," said UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster. "We executed extremely well today. Cal's a strong team and they're well-coached, and we knew we needed to play well to beat them, and to win that doubles point was really important."
Cal coach Amanda Augustus agreed.
"I have to take my hat off to UCLA today. They came out in the doubles ready to go, they attacked...I think we were making adjustments, but we didn't get off to as good a start as we needed to and that kind of put us in a little bit of a hole, and we just didn't have enough on the bottom three courts today. The girls all gave it their best effort, but UCLA really played to win today."
Reigning NCAA champion Jana Juricova of Cal was just a few points from beating Robin Anderson at 1 when the match ended, and the senior, who will compete in the individual tournament next week, has played her last dual match for the Bears.
"You never know what will be the last one, so I try to enjoy the match," said Juricova. "They girls did so well during the season and I'm really proud of them, we worked so much, this year was very, very good with the team, and I'm very happy I ended up with this team."
The evening matches saw a scenario similar to the afternoon quarterfinals. Due to the length of the USC Stanford match, the doubles for both Georgia and Duke and Florida and Miami were played on the Henry Feild courts, although no one could have anticipated the Florida and Miami doubles would take an hour and 46 minutes to complete, delaying the start of the Georgia Duke singles matches.
The Gators won that doubles point, which came down to court 3, after the teams had split on courts 1 and 2. Miami's Anna Bartenstein and Brittany Dubins and Florida's Alex Cercone and Caroline Hitimana played a 7-deuce, 15 minute game with Cercone serving at 6-6 before holding, then breaking Bartenstein in another long game to take the 8- 6 win and the point.
Singles went Florida's way from the start, and as it was in UCLA's win, the bottom of lineup delivered the early momentum, with Cercone taking a 6-2, 6-2 win over Liat Zimmerman at No. 5, and Olivia Janowicz following shortly thereafter with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Dubins at 6.
Miami, the No. 10 seed, couldn't force a third set in any of the four remaining matches before senior Joanna Mather closed out the Hurricanes with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Lina Lineikite at 3.
"I think Florida played an amazing match today," said Miami coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews, whose teams have lost to Florida in the NCAA quarterfinals the past three years. "They made it physical, played the big points well, and they deserve the victory. It's always a little upsetting when a season ends, but I think the better team won today."
Florida coach Roland Thornqvist said he thought the loss of the doubles point "took a little edge off of Miami. They still did a great job, they tried to slow down the pace on virtually every court, between points and during points and I thought that was a good strategy against us, but I don't know that this time can be out-grinded, frankly. So I felt good about it, felt good that we're fit enough to go the distance and I was happy to see that we were fairly quick in winning some straight set matches."
Asked if he had any reaction to the loss by Stanford, their opponent in the last two NCAA finals, Thornqvist kept his focus on the next match.
"I have no thoughts whatsoever," Thornqvist said. "They were on the other side, and we're going to have our hands full with whomever we see on Monday. It's a dogfight out there right now between Georgia and Stanford and we've played both those teams. They're plenty capable if we don't take care of business."
It was nearly an hour after Florida earned its spot in the semifinal that their opponent was determined, with No. 3 Duke surviving a determined Georgia team 4-2.
Sixth-seeded Georgia captured the doubles point with wins at 1 and 3, but Duke came back to take four first sets in singles. Ester Goldfeld pulled Duke even with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Nadja Gilchrist at 2, but Georgia's Chelsey Gullickson dealt Beatrice Capra a rare loss at 1, beating the freshman 6-3, 6-2 to make it 2-1 Georgia. Duke's Monica Turewicz again brought the Blue Devils even, beating Lilly Kimbell 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 at 6, to bring the focus to the No. 3, 4 and 5 courts, where Georgia's Maho Kowase and Lauren Herring had forced third sets at 3 and 4, and Duke's Mary Clayton was closing in on the second set against Kate Fuller at 5.
Herring served for the match and a 3-2 lead against Rachel Kahan at 5-3 and had a match point at 40-30. She approached the net, but Kahan came up with an excellent passing shot, made even better when it clipped the tape. Herring lost that game, Kahan held for 5-5, and when Kahan broke Herring again, it was she who was serving for the match. She too was broken, and a tiebreaker would decide the match.
Meanwhile, Hanna Mar had broken Kowase and was serving for the match at 3. Two match points came and went, which boosted the spirits of the Georgia crowd, but Mar executed a perfect forehand volley closing the net to make it 3-2 Duke.
Herring had to win the tiebreaker to keep the match going, but down 6-3, with Kahan serving, her chances looked bleak. Herring saved two match points, with a Kahan error and an overhead winner, but on the third, Herring netted a forehand, silencing the Georgia faithful and setting off a Blue Devil celebration.
"Peter Smith, the USC's men's coach told me that it was like a rite of passage to win an NCAA match against Georgia here," said Duke coach Jamie Ashworth, who had not played Georgia in Athens in the NCAAs in his 16 years as coach of the Blue Devils. "We just played a hell of a match in singles, and I actually thought we played good in doubles too. We just kept fighting and fighting, and I couldn't be prouder of the girls."
Kahan spoke about what was going through her mind with Herring at the net down match point.
"She's an unbelievable player and I just tried to play it like any other point," Kahan said. "Just hit the shot, and luckily, it went my way."
"Rachel hit a great passing shot," said Ashworth. "Lauren put pressure on her and made Rachel come up with the shot. And she was able to do that ride the momentum a little bit for a couple more points. She did a great job of not letting that match point get her down, but Lauren did the right thing. I always tell our girls, put pressure on someone, and if they come up with the shot, then that's fine, and in that particular moment, Rachel came up with the shot."
Herring and Gullickson accompanied coach Jeff Wallace to the press conference after the match, and the senior and freshman couldn't hide the tear of disappointment after the loss.
"I've got to credit Duke, I think they really played unbelievable in the singles against us," Wallace said. "We're really disappointed. We've got a great team and these guys are just best friends, and it really hurts. They want to spend more time together, they want to play more because they just like each other so much and they work so hard for each other, for all the right reasons, so it's really tough right now."
Gullickson, who, like Cal's Juricova, is an NCAA singles champion and a senior, played her last dual match for the Bulldogs.
"I was fortunate enough to be able to have my senior year to be able to play here, and it's devastating not being able to win as a team here," Gullickson said. "We came out playing great Thursday and playing great today, but Duke just played amazing and there was nothing we could do. I'm proud of everyone and all the girls were fighting from the first point of doubles to the last point of the match. Not to be able to play with my team again is very upsetting, but I can't let it upset me too much. I have to be ready to play for individuals."
The women's semifinals are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. on Monday. The men's quarterfinals are Sunday, beginning at noon.
#1 UCLA (25-2) def. #9 CALIFORNIA (20-7), 4-1 - Henry Feild Stadium
Head Coaches: Stella Sampras Webster (UCLA) and Amanda Augustus (CALIFORNIA)
1. #6 Robin Anderson/Skylar Morton (UCLA) vs. #15 Jana Juricova/Zsofi Susanyi (CALIFORNIA), 5-7, unfinished
2. #9 Courtney Dolehide/Pamela Montez (UCLA) def. #5 Annie Goransson/Anett Schutting (CALIFORNIA), 8-4
3. McCall Jones/Carling Seguso (UCLA) def. Tayler Davis/Cecilia Estlander (CALIFORNIA), 8-4
1. #4 Robin Anderson (UCLA) vs. #8 Jana Juricova (CALIFORNIA), 4-6, 2-5, unfinished
2. #13 Zsofi Susanyi (CALIFORNIA) def. #98 McCall Jones (UCLA), 6-2, 6-1
3. #73 Pamela Montez (UCLA) def. #30 Anett Schutting (CALIFORNIA), 6-3, 6-4
4. #124 Skylar Morton (UCLA) def. #48 Tayler Davis (CALIFORNIA), 6-1, 6-4
5. #119 Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA) vs. #67 Annie Goransson (CALIFORNIA), 6-1, 5-2, unfinished
6. Carling Seguso (UCLA) def. Alice Duranteau (CALIFORNIA), 6-2, 6-4
Order of Finish
#5 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (24-3) def. #4 STANFORD (21-2), 4-2 - McWhorter Courts
Head Coaches: Lele Forood (STANFORD) and Richard Gallien (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA)
1. #3 Kaitlyn Christian/Sabrina Santamaria (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #2 Mallory Burdette/Nicole Gibbs (STANFORD), 8-6
2. #24 Stacey Tan/Ellen Tsay (STANFORD) def. #49 Valeria Pulido/Zoe Scandalis (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 8-5
3. #75 Danielle Lao/Alison Ramos (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. Kristie Ahn/Veronica Li (STANFORD), 8-6
1. #3 Nicole Gibbs (STANFORD) def. #14 Zoe Scandalis (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 6-1, 6-4
2. #19 Danielle Lao (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #5 Mallory Burdette (STANFORD), 4-6, 6-2, 6-4
3. #26 Sabrina Santamaria (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #25 Stacey Tan (STANFORD) 7-5, 1-6, 7-6(5)
4. Kristie Ahn (STANFORD) vs. #89 Kaitlyn Christian (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 6-4, 5-7, 1-2, unfinished
5. Gabriella DeSimone (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #74 Ellen Tsay (STANFORD), 1-6, 6-2, 6-2
6. Veronica Li (STANFORD) def. Valeria Pulido (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 6-4, 7-5
Order of Finish
#3 DUKE (29-2) def. #6 GEORGIA (24-5), 4-2 - Henry Feild Stadium
Head Coaches: Jamie Ashworth (DUKE) and Jeff Wallace (GEORGIA)
1. #46 Kate Fuller/Nadja Gilchrist (GEORGIA) def. #21 Mary Clayton/Ester Goldfeld (DUKE), 8-1
2. #17 Beatrice Capra/Rachel Kahan (DUKE) def. Chelsey Gullickson/Lauren Herring (GEORGIA), 8-6
3. Lilly Kimbell/Maho Kowase (GEORGIA) def. Monica Gorny/Hanna Mar (DUKE), 8-6
1. #7 Chelsey Gullickson (GEORGIA) def. #2 Beatrice Capra (DUKE), 6-3, 6-2
2. #110 Ester Goldfeld (DUKE) def. Nadja Gilchrist (GEORGIA), 6-2, 7-5
3. #59 Hanna Mar (DUKE) def. #58 Maho Kowase (GEORGIA), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3
4. #85 Rachel Kahan (DUKE) def. #70 Lauren Herring (GEORGIA), 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(5)
5. #66 Mary Clayton (DUKE) vs. #96 Kate Fuller (GEORGIA), 6-7(5), 6-4, 3-1, unfinished
6. #97 Monica Turewicz (DUKE) def. Lilly Kimbell (GEORGIA), 6-1, 4-6, 6-3
Order of Finish
#2 FLORIDA (25-1) def. #10 MIAMI (21-5), 4-0 - McWhorter Courts
Head Coaches: Roland Thornqvist (FLORIDA) and Paige Yaroshuk-Tews (MIAMI)
1. #1 Sofie Oyen/Allie Will (FLORIDA) def. #20 Melissa Bolivar/Liat Zimmerman (MIAMI), 8-3
2. #76 Lina Lileikite/Gabriela Mejia (MIAMI) def. #22 Lauren Embree/Joanna Mather (FLORIDA), 8-4
3. Alex Cercone/Caroline Hitimana (FLORIDA) def. Anna Bartenstein/Brittany Dubins (MIAMI), 8-6
1. #1 Allie Will (FLORIDA) vs. #18 Anna Bartenstein (MIAMI), 6-3, 4-2, unfinished
2. #9 Lauren Embree (FLORIDA) vs. #27 Gabriela Mejia (MIAMI), 7-6(2), 1-3, unfinished
3. #21 Joanna Mather (FLORIDA) def. #71 Lina Lineikite (MIAMI), 6-2, 6-4
4. #61 Sofie Oyen (FLORIDA) vs. Melissa Bolivar (MIAMI), 6-3, 5-3, unfinished
5. #79 Alex Cercone (FLORIDA) def. Liat Zimmerman (MIAMI), 6-2, 6-2
6. Olivia Janowicz (FLORIDA) def. Brittany Dubins (MIAMI), 6-3, 6-2
Order of Finish