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Monday, May 24, 2010

Stanford, Florida Renew Rivalry in Women's National Championship Match Tuesday

©Colette Lewis 2010--
Athens, GA--

Stanford and Florida last met for the NCAA title back in 2003, with the Gators denying the Cardinal a third straight title with a 4-3 victory in Gainesville.

On Tuesday afternoon, the two powerhouses of women's tennis will square off again after Stanford took a 4-1 win from Notre Dame and Florida got past North Carolina 4-0 at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

Playing on the McWhorter courts due to the scheduling of the Georgia men, No. 3 Florida and No. 2 North Carolina started first on the partly cloudy and warm afternoon.

Florida, who has yet to lose a match outdoors this year, breezed at No. 3 doubles, with Caroline Hitimana and Anastasia Revzina taking out Jelena Durisic and Jocelyn Ffriend 8-1. Ahead on the other two courts, Florida kept its advantage, capturing the doubles point when Lauren Embree and Joanna Mather defeated Katrina Tsang and Shinann Featherston 8-4.

Florida won four first sets in the singles, but Carolina fought back to force third sets in two of those matches, and on Court 6, Claire Bartlett of Florida and Zoe De Bruycker were in a lengthy first set battle.

The top of the lineup, which has been the Gators strength thoughout the season, continued to perform well, with senior Marrit Boonstra getting the second point with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Sophie Grabinski, and freshman Allie Will earning point number 3 with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over the Tar Heels Katrina Tsang at No. 2.

At No. 1 however, Embree had lost the second set to Marand 6-1 after taking the first 6-2. Shinann Featherston had forced a third set at No. 5 against Florida's Joanna Mather, and De Bruycker had taken the opening set at No. 6. At No. 4, Gina Suarez-Malaguti, known as "Peaches" to all the Tar Heel fans cheering her on, had won the first set from Revzina. So despite the 3-0 lead, the match was far from over.

Embree and Marand traded breaks in the first four games of the third set, before Embree finally held for 3-2. Both women settled down after that, with the left-handed Marand serving well and hitting her ground strokes exceptionally deep. Embree stayed in front, and with Marand serving at 4-5, the senior from Texas was down 0-30 before taking the next four points. The one area of Marand's game that wasn't sharp was her overhead, and Embree did her best to make Marand hit as many of them as possible.

With Marand serving at 5-6, Embree hit a perfect passing shot to make it 15-30 and when Marand's forehand went long on the next shot, Embree had two match points. Again Marand approached the net, and Embree lofted a perfect lob that took a moment to drop well inside the baseline, with Embree screaming with joy before it landed.

"I didn't look to see it hit," said the 19-year-old Embree, who a year ago at this time was playing in the main draw at the French Open. "I knew it was going in. I was relieved, I wasn't nervous anymore. I was so excited, so many different emotions."

Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist, seeking his second NCAA title after winning his first in 2003, believes his two freshmen have been the key to the Gators' run.

"Once again, our two freshman up top keep proving time and time again that they're not what you'd call traditional freshmen. They're very mature in their play, they're very mature in how they compete and this scenario here is not overwhelming to them."

"We knew North Carolina was going to be very, very tough and they were. We're proud of how we faced and conquered that challenge."

North Carolina head coach Brian Kalbas, who led his team to the school's first-ever Final Four appearance this year, saw more than just talent from Florida in Monday's match.

"I give a lot of credit to Florida. They played an amazing match in doubles and singles," Kalbas said. "They're a very talented team, but they play with a lot of toughness. They made us play one extra ball every point and it made things difficult."

While Florida was fighting off the charge of North Carolina, No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 8 Stanford were beginning play on the Henry Feild courts. After splitting the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles matches, the point would come down to Court 1, where Kristy Frilling and Kali Krisik of Notre Dame and Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette were at 6-6. The Stanford team was broken and Frilling served it out to give Notre Dame a 1-0 lead.

After losing the doubles point for only the second time this year, Stanford came out determined to make a statement in singles, and it was the Burdette sisters who took the lead. Senior Lindsay, playing Shannon Mathews at No. 2, and freshman Mallory, facing Chrissie McGaffigan at No. 3, dominated from the outset, and Notre Dame head coach Jay Louderback was impressed.

"The Burdette sisters--I was worried someone was going to get hurt," Louderback said, tongue-in-cheek. "I don't know that I've seen two players hit the ball that big outdoors that consistently. We did everything we could and we didn't have a chance. I felt they were the difference today. They played so well."

Mallory won 6-0, 6-1 to tie it at 1-1, and Lindsay followed with the Cardinal's second point 6-1, 6-2. Freshman Stacy Tan made it 3-1 with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Cosmina Ciobanu at No. 4, and it was junior Hilary Barte, who clinched Stanford's quarterfinal win over top-seeded Baylor on Saturday, who had the honors again. Barte defeated Frilling 6-4, 6-4 to put the Cardinal in their first final since winning the title in Palo Alto in 2006.

"We're really thrilled to be sitting at this table again," said Stanford head coach Lele Forood of the post-match press conference. "It's been a few years for us, but we're delighted to be here. We had some great performances today, and the whole top of our lineup was outstanding."

For Lindsay Burdette, who hails from nearby Jackson, Georgia, Athens is a special place. She came to the Dan Magill Tennis Complex to watch her sister Erin win the title with the Cardinal in 2005, and remembers the trophy pictures and excitement of the title.

"I thought this was how it was every year," said Burdette, who will be playing in her first final on Tuesday. "It takes a lot of effort on the part of a lot of different people to make all this happen every year. We've put in 110%, from the coaches, to other people, supporters of the team, to the team members. It's been a lot of effort, but all worth it."

The women's final between Florida and Stanford will be broadcast on ESPNU at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

Women’s Semifinals
#3 FLORIDA (29-2) def. #2 NORTH CAROLINA (30-5), 4-0
Head Coaches: Roland Thornqvist (Florida) and Brian Kalbas (North Carolina)
Doubles (Order of finish: 3,2)
1. #5 Marrit Boonstra/Allie Will (FLORIDA) vs. #13 Sanaz Marand/Sophie Grabinski (NORTH CAROLINA), 6-3, unf.
2. #29 Lauren Embree/Joanna Mather (FLORIDA) def. #31 Katrina Tsang/Shinann Featherston (NORTH CAROLINA), 8-4
3. Caroline Hitimana/Anastasia Revzina (FLORIDA) def. Jelena Durisic /Jocelyn Ffriend (NORTH CAROLINA), 8-1

Singles (Order of finish: 3,2,1*)
1. #9 Lauren Embree (FLORIDA) def. #21 Sanaz Marand (NORTH CAROLINA), 6-2, 1-6, 7-5
2. #8 Allie Will (FLORIDA) def. #54 Katrina Tsang (NORTH CAROLINA), 6-3, 6-3
3. #65 Marrit Boonstra (FLORIDA) def. Sophie Grabinski (NORTH CAROLINA), 6-2, 6-2
4. #102 Anastasia Revzina (FLORIDA) vs. Gina Suarez-Malaguti (NORTH CAROLINA), 4-6, 6-4, 3-3, unf.
5. Joanna Mather (FLORIDA) vs. Shinann Featherston (NORTH CAROLINA), 6-2, 3-6, 4-3, unf.
6. Claire Bartlett (FLORIDA) vs. Zoe De Bruycker (NORTH CAROLINA), 5-7, 2-2, unf.

STANFORD (25-1) def. NOTRE DAME (26-4), 4-1
Head Coaches: Jay Louderback (Notre Dame) and Lele Forood (Stanford)
Doubles (Order of finish: 2,3,1)
1. #3 Kristy Frilling/Kali Krisik (NOTRE DAME) def. #2 Hilary Barte/Lindsay Burdette (STANFORD) 8-6
2. Cosmina Ciobanu/Shannon Mathews (NOTRE DAME) def. #56 Mallory Burdette/Stacey Tan (STANFORD) 8-3
3. Carolyn McVeigh/Veronica Li (STANFORD) def. Chrissie McGaffigan/Kristen Rafael (NOTRE DAME) 8-4

Singles (Order of finish: 3,2,4,1*)
1. #4 Hilary Barte (STANFORD) def. #16 Kristy Frilling (NOTRE DAME) 6-4, 6-4
2. #83 Lindsay Burdette (STANFORD) def. #108 Shannon Mathews (NOTRE DAME) 6-1, 6-2
3. #33 Mallory Burdette (STANFORD) def. Chrissie McGaffigan (NOTRE DAME) 6-0, 6-1
4. #86 Stacey Tan (STANFORD) def. Cosmina Ciobanu (NOTRE DAME) 6-2, 6-4
5. Kali Krisik (NOTRE DAME) vs. Carolyn McVeigh (STANFORD) 6-4, 2-3, unf.
6. Kristen Rafael (NOTRE DAME) vs. Veronica Li (STANFORD) 6-7 (4-7), 2-2, unf.