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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cal Ousts Northwestern; Duke, Notre Dame and Georgia Advance to Women's Final Four

©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station TX--

There was a little bit of everything in the NCAA Division I women's quarterfinals on Sunday afternoon. A nearly five-hour match between a Cinderella and a favorite, a rematch of a dramatic conference final that ended much more quickly than anticipated, a dismissal of a streaking Texas team and its veteran closer by a Midwest freshman, and another win for last year's finalists over the top seed.

No. 3 Duke and No. 6 Miami were expected to replicate their 4-3 battle in the ACC conference final, where the Blue Devils' Reka Zsilinszka saved five team match points to earn her team the victory, but it didn't turn out that way. Duke took the doubles point and came out very focused in singles, with Mallory Cecil giving them a quick second point with a 6-2, 6-1 blistering of Julia Cohen. Laura Vallverdu got Miami on the board with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Ellah Nze at No. 2, but one of the real keys was Amanda Granson's 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Michaela Kissell of Miami at No. 4.

"The last time they played, I think Amanda lost like 2 and 0 or 3 and 0 and lost in three sets the time before that," said Duke coach Jamie Ashworth. "For other girls on our team to see that...for everyone to see Amanda fighting back like that it was great for everybody."

Once Granson had taken point number three for Duke, attention centered on Court 3, where Zsilinszka was up a set and 5-1 on Miami's Bianca Eichkorn. The last two times they had played, it was 7-6 in the third, each winning one of those encounters, but Miami coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said she saw something different in the Duke sophomore this time.

"I looked at her and saw the way she was walking around the court, and the way she started out in the match, and Zsilinszka wasn't in for a long day," said Yaroshuk-Tews. "It seemed she had the mentality she was going to make that as quick as she could, and I don't think that's always her mentality. My player was ready to be in for a long day, but her mentality should have been the same as Reka's coming out of the gates. But Bianca doesn't lose too many matches like that, so congrats to Zsilinszka for playing a great match."

Zsilinszka simply never let Eichkorn in the match and took it 6-4, 6-3 to put Duke in the semifinals.

"We played really well," said Ashworth. "I'm excited for (my team), and they're real excited to beat a Miami team 4-1. With the history we've had and the matches we've had with them in the past, it's just a great thing for our program."

Duke's semifinal opponent on Monday will be Georgia, who started at roughly the same time as the other quarterfinal but ended hours later, when a cramping Nadja Gilchrist won a three-hour and thirteen minute match over Dijana Stojic of South Carolina 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.

The No. 2 seeded Georgia Bulldogs lost the doubles point and trailed the No. 22 ranked Gamecocks 3-1 several hours into the match. South Carolina's Natasa Vuckovic had taken out Monika Dancevic 7-6(3), 6-3 at No. 4 and Ana Zubori had beaten Bulldog Yvette Hyndman 6-3, 6-3, meaning that Georgia needed all three matches remaining on the court.

Georgia's Cameron Ellis recovered from dropping the first set to Suzanna Mansour and took the second point with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 win at No. 6; Naoko Ueshima followed shortly after with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Miljana Jocic. That left it up to Georgia's Gilchrist and South Carolina's Stojic, who were barely beginning their third set.

During the middle of the set, neither player could hold serve, but finally Stojic did, to take a 5-4 lead. Gilchrist held rather easily in the always pressure-packed 4-5 game, and then won the first three points on Stojic's serve at 5-5. But Gilchrist began to show signs of cramping at that stage, and she squandered those three break points and three more before finally breaking for a 6-5 lead.

Gilchrist's right leg seemed to be the chief source of discomfort, but she continued to grit her teeth and bear the pain as she received serve. She had treatment from a trainer at the changeover, and in the final game, she seemed slightly better equipped to set up for her shots and was able to serve without noticeable pain. A couple of big forehand winners led to the first match point, and after she came to net and put away a forehand to end the grueling marathon, she collapsed to the court.

"You've really got to be inspired by a player who's cramping and hurting that bad, still competing and fighting and trying to find a way to win," said Georgia coach Jeff Wallace. "I think in the end it forced her to really play the style of tennis that she needed to actually be playing to win--more aggressive, so you don't have to run down all these balls in long points."

Gilchrist said it was the first time she had cramped in a match, but was so thankful to be able to deliver the victory for her team.

"After I won, I was happy and relieved I was able to come through for my team," said the freshman. "It's the best win of my career, and I just had to believe in myself."

South Carolina coach Arlo Elkins was proud of his team's effort, saying:

"There's all these teams that are 28-1 and 27-4 and 26-3 and whatever, and then you look at ours and we were 17-10, and I think people thought we didn't belong here. But I think from this match we showed we did belong here. We played a really good match."

Another freshman who shone on Sunday was Notre Dame's Shannon Mathews, who clinched for her team at the No. 4 singles spot in the Irish's 4-3 win over Baylor.

Mathews had lost the first set 7-5 to Baylor's Csilla Borsanyi, who had won the final match on in the round of 16 win against Stanford, but Mathews climbed back into it by running up a 4-0 lead in the second set and holding on for a 6-3 set.

No. 5 seed Notre Dame had taken the doubles point, but it was Baylor, the fourth seed, who put the first two singles points on the board, with Lenka Broosova defeating Kristy Frilling 6-1, 6-1 and Nina Secerbegovia taking out Kali Krisik 6-0, 6-0. Notre Dame's Kristen Rafael scored her own lopsided victory at No. 6, a 6-3, 6-0 decision over Kasia Siwosz to make it 2-2, and Kelcy Tefft at No. 1 gave the Irish a 3-2 lead with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Taylor Ormond. Cosmina Ciobanu had an opportunity to split with Baylor's Jelena Stanivuk when she took a 5-3 lead in the second set, but Stanivuk won the next four games to post a 6-1, 7-5 win and level the match at 3.

Mathews and Borsanyi were late in the second set when Stanivuk finished, and although she saw a 4-0 lead dwindle to 4-3, Mathews showed very little nervousness, holding and breaking to force a third.

In the third, the freshman again got out to a 4-0 lead, and again Borsanyi fought back. The junior transfer from Florida got both of the breaks back, but was broken at 3-4 to give Mathews the opportunity to finish it. She couldn't serve it out, but in the next game, with Borsanyi serving at 4-5, Mathews broke Borsanyi again to claim the victory.

"The last match was an amazing match," said Notre Dame coach Jay Louderback. "The way she played after she lost the first set, she started off strong in the second and third sets and then just played solid, played really well at the end. I told her afterward this is where legends are made."

Baylor coach Joey Scrivano was as impressed with Mathews as Louderback was.

"Mathews is just a heck of a player. She didn’t play like a freshman tonight, that's for sure," he said. "We know that Mathews is a tough customer, and she can really play. To beat her, you have to do some really veteran-like things, and Csilla started doing it when she got down 4-0 but it's just too late, anybody can win two games. It's too bad, but we’ll learn from it. We're going to win this tournament one day; but obviously not this year."

Mathews admitted she was "a little bit" nervous, but there were no signs of it on the court where she handled the pressure and the noisy Baylor fans with the composure of a senior.

"You try to block it out, play within yourself, block out the crowd and everything," Mathews said. "A night match, you don't get that very often, last court on, it's just a great night to play tennis and enjoy it."

Mathews got her team off the court by 10:30 p.m., but the battle between No. 1 Northwestern and No. 8 California, a rematch of last year's quarterfinal, was still raging. Cal had taken a very long and even doubles point with a tiebreaker at No. 2, and had posted two quick first sets at No. 5 and No. 6. But the Wildcats fought back valiantly, winning the second sets in both those matches, while taking two first sets of their own.

Cal's Jana Juricova was the only Bear to get off the court in straight sets, as she defeated top-ranked Maria Mosolova 6-4, 6-1 with an impressive display of power tennis. It was 2-0 Cal, until Northwestern's Keri Robison completed her comeback against Stephany Chang at No. 6, taking a 0-6, 6-2, 6-1 decision, and Nazlie Ghazal saved a match point against Cal's Bojana Bobusic in a 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) victory that made it 2-2. The three other matches were all in the third set, but it was Cal that held the advantage in two of them, and Mari Andersson at No. 3 took out Samantha Murray 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to put the Bears on the brink.

At No. 2, Marina Cossou had come back from a set down against Georgia Rose and she played with great confidence in the final two sets to take the match 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 and deliver another Final Four appearance to her teammates.

For Northwestern coach Claire Pollard, it was another disappointing end to a promising season, but she didn't fault her team's competitive performance.

"I'm pretty proud of the effort we gave," Pollard said. "They were on top of us quite quickly, beating us up pretty badly, and you know a year ago that happened to us in singles and we kind of rolled over. This year I was really proud of the way the girls dug deep. As disappointed as I am, I am so much prouder of the effort we gave and we lost to the team I was most worried about playing in the whole tournament."

Cal coach Amanda Augustus, who led the Bears to the title match last year in her first year at Cal, learned a few things about her team this year.

"I think this match showed us we're fit enough to do this," she said. "Gosh, Northwestern fought so hard on every court. They're well coached and they competed their hearts out, and it was just really good tennis."

The men's semifinals begin at 1 p.m. CDT, with the women's semis scheduled for 4 p.m. The weather forecast is for sunny and temperatures in the low 80s.

For complete scores, see the aggieathletics site.

For additional coverage of the NCAAs, see College Tennis Examiner.com.


justthefacts said...

anyone know why Missy Clayton is not playing in the Stanford lineup

Austin said...

I dont follow womens college tennis that close and rarely follow entire matches, but yesterday was some great action. Every team out there can be proud of the efforts they gave.

I felt bad for South Carolina though, the girl who lost the deciding match should have won. Gilchrist was cramping and she was just playing right into her hand. Great run though.

I assumed Cal was the best team in the country, so them knocking off Northwestern didnt seem too surprising. Sort of like UVA losing in mens. Also, Bobusic had a match point at 5-4 in the third before losing.

Going to be an exciting day, hope the weather isnt too out of hand.

TechGirl said...

I remember someone on here at the start of the season saying they thought that Northwestern would possibly be the top team going into the NCAAs but choke. Whoever it was they were bang on the money. I think they missed with all of their other predictions but they sure had Northwestern nailed.

What odds Mallory Cecil for the individual title? She really has come in and played big, right from the start. Not as dominant as Audra Cohen in her Freshman year but there's less competition in 2009 so she might snag that singles crown.


Was that another one of those matches where someone cramps and their opponent kind of loses their rhythm and can't finish them off?

Austin said...

It just looked more like pushing rather than hitting angles, short shots, or drop volleys to force her to move. Soon as Gilchrist got up 6-5 she attacked and went for it instead of attempting to push, so credit to her.

I just kept thinking to myself, bring her to the net, then lob, no chance she gets to it. Easy to say while sitting on my couch, but she didnt really try to take advantage.

Also, I read awhile back about some great winning streak Julia Cohen was on this season. I see she has gotten beat pretty badly against her last few highly ranked opponents.

scott said...

Cohen is a solid player, but overrated. She doesn't have weapons to take it to someone and against the better players, she is overmatched. I think mentally, she struggles as well, especially when it comes to the money matches. Conference tournaments and NCAA tournament matches, her record is abysmal and often, she isn't even competitive. Last year, she was 0-2 in the SEC tournament and 1-2 in the NCAA tournament(win over Jacksonville). This year, she was 0-1 in the ACC tournament and she went 2-2 in NCAA's. The wins over Army and FIU aren't exactly top notch. Against UCLA and Duke, she was steam rolled. I think she's better suited as a #2. I kind of wonder what Florida would've been like this year, if they had Cohen and Borsanyi back, the way Boonstra emerged as a top player, the improvement of Mather and Alexander. I think they would've been a big factor. Oh well.

Clayton has been off the Stanford roster for a while now. She left the team, but I don't know why. Maybe they needed roster room for Mallory Burdette?

I think Cal is going to win the team title. Duke should be their opponent. Georgia just hasn't looked good at all this week and I don't think ND can get past the Bears. Cal and Duke are just on another level.

Northwestern needs to play outdoors more. Until that happens, they will never live up to expectations in May.

choke? said...

I don't think northwestern's loss was a choke. kind of seemed the opposite. sure, they were the first seed, but Cal is a very respectable team. 5 of the 6 matches went to three sets and one of the players even saved a match point (opposite of choking). sure, they were "expected" to win, but they fought pretty hard so calling it a choke is probably wrong. They were never ahead in the match... lost the doubles point. down big from the start and fought well but came up short this time. in what way do you see this as a choke?