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Thursday, May 20, 2010

North Carolina Turns Back Florida State 4-1, Duke Upsets UCLA

©Colette Lewis 2010--
Athens, GA--

It will be a Tobacco Road quarterfinal on Saturday, when defending champion and No. 10 seed Duke plays No. 2 North Carolina after both teams recorded tough victories in the early afternoon matches at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex at the University of Georgia.

North Carolina's Sanaz Marand and Sophie Grabinski took an undramatic doubles point with a 8-3 win at No. 1 after the teams split the other two matches: No. 15 Florida State won at No. 3, North Carolina at No. 2.

Florida State looked to be down and out when the Tar Heels won four first sets in singles, but the Seminoles, making their first ever appearance in the NCAA Sweet 16, weren't ready to go back to Tallahassee. After North Carolina's Gina Suarez-Malaguti won at No. 5 to give the Tar Heels a 2-0 lead and Sophie Grabinski closed out her straight set win over Amy Sargeant at No. 4, it seemed inevitable that Marand at No. 1 or Jelena Durisic at No. 3 would get the final point for North Carolina. Both had won first sets but went to second set tiebreakers at exactly the same time. Francesca Segarelli of Florida State got the early lead against Durisic but it didn't look like her match would matter when Marand took a 6-2 lead in her tiebreaker with Laura McCreless. But Marand played tentatively, netting several shots she was not missing earlier in the tiebreaker, and six points later McCreless had won the set. With Segarelli already winning her tiebreaker, and Katie Rybakova giving Florida State a point with a win at No. 2, the Seminoles, who were loudly cheered on by their women's softball team, had new life.

But down on court six, North Carolina's Shinann Featherstone had won her first set over Jessica Sucupira and was up a break in the second, and it was the sophomore from New York who finished the task 7-6(5), 6-2.

After the match Jennifer Hyde, head coach of Florida State, was proud of her team's effort.

"We've been fighters all season," she said, adding that her team had "soul."

"It's the best season in Florida State history and the experience has been invaluable. We want to be in here (in the Sweet 16) every year. They know they belong here, and I'm proud of their effort."

Meanwhile, on the McWhorter courts, the defending champion and No. 10 Duke was fighting for its life against seventh seed UCLA. Duke had taken the doubles point, a result that surprised UCLA's coach Stella Sampras Webster, who said after the match that she "thought we had better doubles teams than they did." After splitting the matches at No. 2 (Duke) and No. 3 (UCLA), the point came down to No. 1, where UCLA had a clear advantage with the No. 5 ranked team of Andrea Remynse and Yasmin Schnack, who were playing No. 32 Ellah Nze and Amanda Granson. Yet it was Nze and Granson who won it, 8-5, to give Duke a 1-0 lead.

The singles started very well for UCLA as they quickly won first sets at lines 1, 2, 4 and 5. Without the doubles point, UCLA couldn't afford to relinquish any of those leads, especially after Mary Clayton made it 2-0 with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Bruin Stephanie Hoffpauir. Maya Johansson of UCLA earned their first point with a three-set win over Monica Gorny, but Duke edged closer to the upset when Amanda Granson completed her comeback win over Pamela Montez at No. 4 to make it 3-1. UCLA's Andrea Remynse had taken the second set from Reka Zsilinszka and they were beginning the third set when Schnack defeated Nze in three at No. 1. On court 2, Liz Plotkin trailed 5-2 in the third set, but fought back to force a tiebreaker with Noelle Hickey, who had to win it to keep UCLA in it.

Plotkin, a senior who was injured for nearly two years and did not play during the 2009 NCAA championship run by the Blue Devils, raised her game in that final few points.

Hickey was overruled at 3-3, when she called a Plotkin overhead out, but had her call reversed by the chair on appeal by Plotkin. Hickey double faulted on the next point and at 5-3, Plotkin hit the shot of the match, a running forehand down the line. After a huge scream, Plotkin calmed down and forced an error from Hickey on the next point to record a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) victory and keep Duke in the running for a second straight title.

Head coach Jamie Ashworth thought that he was more emotional in today's win than he had been in any of the Blue Devils' victories during their championship run last year.

"I had tears in my eyes when Liz won," said Ashworth. "I don't remember a time like that last year. It was unbelievable."

Ashworth, who called the battle with UCLA "a heavyweight fight," is looking forward to another shot at the Tar Heels, who have recorded two 4-3 victories over Duke this year.

"It was 6-4 in the third in the first one at the Indoors and 6-3 in the third in the regular season and none of the same players were winning and losing," he said.

For complete results, see the recaps on the interactive draws at ncaa.com.