©Colette Lewis 2009—
College Station, TX--
The history between ACC rivals Miami and Duke will have a new chapter written on Monday, when the Blue Devils' Mallory Cecil and Hurricanes' Laura Vallverdu meet in the NCAA women's individual championship.
Cecil helped Duke eliminate Miami in the quarterfinals of the team event on their way to the school's first national championship, and she continued her recent dominance of the Hurricanes' No. 1 player on Sunday, defeating No. 2 seed Julia Cohen 6-1, 6-0.
But waiting in the wings for the fifth seed is Miami's No. 2, Laura Vallverdu, who withstood both the powerful game of No. 8 seed Chelsey Gullickson and a nearly two-hour rain delay to take a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 decision from the Georgia freshman.
Vallverdu, a junior from Venezuela, served for the match twice in the second set, and had a match point at 5-4, but she didn't convert it, and Gullickson won five straight games to even the match. In the final game of that second set, Vallverdu double faulted twice, and momentum was definitely in Gullickson's favor when she took the first game of the third set.
But Vallverdu is nothing if not feisty, and she came back to even the match at 3 when lightning caused play to be suspended. Approximately 30 minutes later, a light rain began to fall, producing a delay that Vallverdu viewed as an advantage.
"I honestly think it was good for me," Vallverdu said. "I came back from 3-1 down, but I caught myself saying 'yes' when they said stop the match because I knew I needed time to settle down. I knew I needed to get my thoughts back from that second set. I was talking to my dad, talking to friends and I just kind of relaxed for a little bit. I was visualizing a lot."
When play resumed, Gullickson won her serve to take a 4-3 lead and Vallverdu probably wasn't envisioning going down 0-40 in her service game. But she won the next five points in that game, and four of the next five on Gullickson's serve.
"I was not aware of what was happening really," Vallverdu said of her play in those two games. "I told myself to be in just a little bubble I call it, and not even think about what's happening. I just told myself to keep my emotions in and focus on the little yellow thing."
Gullickson credited Vallverdu with raising her level during that stretch.
"I feel like she definitely stepped up her game from that 40-love game on," Gullickson said. "She was making more balls, being more aggressive."
In her quarterfinal win against Marrit Boonstra of Florida, Vallverdu also squandered a second set match point and was extended to three sets, but the woman who calls herself a "little running machine" preferred recalling her third round victory over LSU's Megan Falcon. In that match she was down a set and 5-2 before winning the final 11 games.
"I came back from 5-2 down and I saw that that could happen," Vallverdu said. "It's just too exciting."
In her third attempt to serve out the match, at 5-4 in the third set, Vallverdu, who can be volatile on the court, finished it off without much drama, although she gave a loud scream along with a two-handed skyward fist pump at the end of the match.
Cecil, her opponent in the final, has scouting reports, of course, from her teammate Ellah Nze, who has played Vallverdu in the previous team matches, but the two have never played before.
"I've only seen her a little, and I don't really know that much about her," said Cecil, who joined the Blue Devils in January. "At this point right now, it's another player. I'm not really thinking about what school they're from or where they played on their team. If she's in the finals of the NCAAs, she's a good player."
Cecil was able to dominate Cohen in their last three meetings by using her swinging volleys to finish points.
"She's got that game style where she'll just hang in there with you and if you get agitated or anything like that, she can run with it," Cecil said.
Playing a match for the eighth straight day, Cecil is a veteran of the ice bath, but feels it's her mind that's the key to staying sharp through the fatigue.
"It's all mental for me," said Cecil. "It's all mental for all of us. I feel really match tough, and I'm just kind of using the momentum I have right now. Now I know it's one more match, so I'm leaving everything out on that court tomorrow."
The doubles finalists were determined Sunday afternoon, and in the men's championship it will be Virginia's Dominic Inglot and Michael Shabaz against Tennessee's Davey Sandgren and JP Smith. The unseeded Inglot and Shabaz defeated unseeded Clay Donato and Taylor Fogleman of North Carolina 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, while No. 2 seeds Sandgren and Smith earned their spot in the final with an efficient 6-4, 6-2 victory over unseeded Tim Puetz and Alexey Tsyrenov of Auburn.
The women's doubles championship will feature two Pac-10 teams with 5-8 seeding.
Mari Andersson and Jana Juricova of Cal got past unseeded Csilla Borsanyi and Lenka Broosova of Baylor 6-4, 6-3 in one semifinal, and Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette of Stanford squeeked past unseeded Natalie Pluskota and Caitlin Whoriskey of Tennessee 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (4), finishing just as another round of severe weather was descending on College Station.
The doubles finals are schedule for 10 a.m. Monday, with the singles finals slated for an 11 a.m. start.
For complete results, see aggieathletics.com
Sunday, May 24, 2009