©Colette Lewis 2010--
The Stanford Cardinal returned to the top of college tennis Tuesday, claiming a dramatic 4-3 victory over the Florida Gators courtesy of freshman Mallory Burdette.
After more than four hours, the championship had come down to the No. 3 singles match between Burdette and Florida senior Marrit Boonstra. Florida's Joanna Mather had kept her team alive at No. 5 singles with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-0 win over a cramping Carolyn McVeigh, focusing all the attention to Court 3, where the score was 4-4. Boonstra held to take a 5-4 lead, using excellent defense to thwart the powerful right-hander from nearby Jackson, Georgia, but something in Burdette's mindset changed at just that moment.
"There for a while in the third set I was just so scared of losing," said Burdette, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "That's all I could think about. I had to let that go, just play the point at hand. It was tough, I really had to fight my nerves, my stomach was up here in my neck. It was really difficult, but it was great. It hasn't completely hit me yet."
Burdette held her serve to make it 5-5, hitting a couple of deft low-volley winners that are difficult when the match is deep in the third set. In the next game she broke Boonstra, who committed a double fault and two unforced errors.
With a changeover allowing the tension to build, her teammates gathered at her end of the court, their decibel level rising as Burdette built a 40-0 lead. Burdette needed all three match points, but took the last one, and as she dropped her racquet and turned toward her team, she saw her older sister Lindsay bearing down on her.
"I saw her running and I knew I was going to get hit," Mallory said. "I saw everyone behind her, but she was way out in front."
"All I was thinking was that I wanted to be the first one to get to her," said Lindsay, who tackled her sister so hard that Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh complimented her on her form in a congratulatory tweet. "Everybody else went out the gate, but I jumped the fence."
One by one the others piled on, a celebration that marked the end of what head coach Lele Forood called a "drought," although the last Cardinal title was just four years ago, in 2006, and they are the all-time leader in championships, with 16.
"It's a big drought for us," Forood said. "It feels like the desert, believe me. We haven't had the right combination of factors the last couple of years and we've really been trying to find the formula...We wanted to get back on the map with our program. It's very important for us. We are back now."
Lindsay Burdette, a senior who had seen her older sister Erin help win a title for Stanford in Athens in 2005, admitted to being sobered by the team's inability to reach a final during her first three years.
"I think I had a little bit better idea of what it took, and all the things that have to go right for that to happen, but I definitely think that Mallory's desire and the idea that we could do this was a little bit stronger."
Lindsay had made her own substantial contribution to the eighth-seeded Cardinal's victory over No. 3 Florida, handing Allie Will her first dual match loss of the season 6-3, 6-3 at No. 2 singles, giving Stanford its second point.
Stanford had lost the doubles point for the second match in a row, but came out strong in singles, winning five of the first sets. Freshman Stacey Tan drew them even, taking control of her match with Anastasia Revzina after a slow start to post a 6-2, 6-2 victory. Florida freshman Lauren Embree played an outstanding match against Hilary Barte at No. 1, winning 6-4, 6-3 to put the score at 2-2. Veronica Li gave Stanford a 3-2 lead with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Caroline Hitimana at No. 6, but Mather played a flawless third set against McVeigh to ensure Burdette and Boonstra would decide it in that last handful of games.
"I really thought our team showed tremendous courage, heart and pride," said Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist. "Even though we came up short, I was really, really proud of our effort and our play. Marrit's been in that situation before and my heart just aches, because she has given everything she has to this program, and it's just not fair that it comes down to something like that. She's going to be hurting for a long time."
Despite the disappointing loss, Thornqvist was able to put the loss in perspective.
"If you had told me in January that we'd be at 5-all in the third in the deciding match with Marrit on the court, I'll take that and a championship. We did everything we could and should in preparation for this event...an inch here or there decided it today and that inch can't be the end-all, be-all as far as the season is concerned. Once this initial pain here, the shock of losing abates, I'm sure we'll look on this season with great pride."
The NCAA individual tournament begins on Wednesday, with Florida's Embree and Will and Stanford's Barte and Mallory Burdette among the 64 women's competitors. See ncaa.org for the complete draws.
#8 STANFORD (26-1) def. #3 FLORIDA (29-3), 4-3
Head Coaches: Roland Thornqvist (Florida) and Lele Forood (Stanford)
Singles (Order of finish: 4,2,1,6,5,3)
1. #9 Lauren Embree (FLORIDA) def. #4 Hilary Barte (STANFORD) 6-4, 6-3
2. #83 Lindsay Burdette (STANFORD) def. #8 Allie Will (FLORIDA) 6-3, 6-3
3. #33 Mallory Burdette (STANFORD) def. #65 Marrit Boonstra (FLORIDA) 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 7-5
4. #86 Stacey Tan (STANFORD) def. #102 Anastasia Revzina (FLORIDA) 6-2, 6-2
5. Joanna Mather (FLORIDA) def. Carolyn McVeigh (STANFORD) 5-7, 6-4, 6-0
6. Veronica Li (STANFORD) def. #107 Caroline Hitimana (FLORIDA) 6-3, 7-5
Doubles (Order of finish: 2,1,3)
1. #2 Lindsay Burdette/Hilary Barte (STANFORD) def. #5 Marrit Boonstra/Allie Will (FLORIDA) 8-4
2. #29 Lauren Embree/Joanna Mather (FLORIDA) def. #56 Mallory Burdette/Stacey Tan (STANFORD) 8-1
3. Anastasia Revzina/Caroline Hitimana (FLORIDA) def. Carolyn McVeigh/Veronica Li (STANFORD) 8-6
Tuesday, May 25, 2010