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Monday, May 18, 2009

Cal Returns to Women's Division I Final, Will Meet Duke for Championship Tuesday Evening

©Colette Lewis 2009--
College Station, TX--

The Bears of California-Berkeley are hoping that their progression in the NCAAs the past three years results in their first national championship Sunday evening, when they meet a Duke Blue Devil team also looking for its first title.

A semifinalist in 2007, Cal reached the final last year, where they fell 4-0 to a UCLA team that had been a runner-up at the NCAAs the previous year.

On Saturday, eighth-seeded Cal defeated No. 5 Notre Dame 4-2 to give the three players who tasted the disappointment of last year's final match another shot at it.

Cal coach Amanda Augustus, who has now reached the final in both of her years at Berkeley, sees a different mindset this year.

"Getting back here has been our singular focus," she said. "We felt we had enough talent to do it if we worked really hard and things went our way. Whereas last year, we were just so excited just to be in the finals. I don't know if as a team, we believed we could win last year, Whereas UCLA had had the experience of being in the finals and falling short, and they really believed it was their time. I am hopeful that this year, given that half of our starters had that experience last year, that they'll really believe tomorrow is their time."

Notre Dame coach Jay Louderback said that his team knew they had to win the doubles point to have a chance against the Bears.

"Their singles are so good. We did it, gave ourselves a shot, and we competed well," Louderback said. "We were hoping to get into a tight situation, because if you get into this far, and a lot of times its more about pressure than it is tennis."

Cal didn't cooperate however, taking five first sets in singles. Irish freshman Kristy Frilling gave her team a 2-0 lead with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Marina Cossou, but it didn't last long. Jana Juricova took out Notre Dame's Kelcy Tefft at No. 1 by the same 6-1, 6-1 score and Bojana Bobusic got Cal even with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Kali Krisik at No. 5. Claire Ilcinkas brought the Bears to the verge with a 6-3, 7-6 (3) win over Shannon Mathews at No. 4, and it was Mari Andersson at No. 3 who earned the fourth point with a 7-5, 6-3 victory against Cosmina Ciobanu.

No. 3 Duke's 5-2 win over No. 2 Georgia followed a similar pattern in singles, but the Blue Devils had the luxury of having won the doubles point. Taking the first sets in four matches, Georgia needed to turn around a couple of those, but they weren't able to do it, and although they pulled even when Cameron Ellis beat Jessi Robinson 6-3, 6-1 at No. 6, there was no comeback brewing like the one the Bulldogs mounted in their quarterfinal win over South Carolina Sunday. Amanda Granson put Duke up 2-1 with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Monica Danevic at No. 4, and Melissa Mang followed with a 6-2, 6-2 decision over Naoko Ueshima of Georgia at No. 5 to make it 3-1. Chelsey Gullickson got the Bulldogs' second point with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Mallory Cecil at No. 1, but with Duke's Ellah Nze and Reka Zsilinszka holding breaks in their second sets, the question was who would clinch. It turned out to be Nze, who beat Yvette Hyndman 6-4, 6-3 at No. 2, but since Zsilinszka was also playing a match point against Nadja Gilchrist at No. 3, she too was given credit for a win, by a 6-4, 6-2 score.

"Georgia's a great team, but I thought we matched up really well with Georgia," said Duke coach Jamie Ashworth. "Just down the line, I was really confident with our singles. We've been tough to beat in four singles matches all year, but I thought to get some good matchups that we wanted was a good thing."

Ashworth brought Duke to the finals in 1998, his first year as head coach, but he hasn't been back since, something he did not anticipate.

"It's my thirteenth year I think, and the last time I was in the finals was my first year. I thought oh, this is easy stuff, we should be able to do this every year, but it's tough. It means a lot to them. We're happy to be one of two teams playing another day. We're really excited about that."

Georgia coach Jeff Wallace, who has won two national titles while in Athens, didn't feel that his team's five hour contest against South Carolina on Sunday played much of a role in their defeat.

"I just felt like Duke played a great match," Wallace said. "They beat us today, they were the better team today. I think they just came out in the singles spots and just outplayed us."

The women's final is scheduled for 6 p.m. EDT on Sunday, and can be viewed live on ESPNU.

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