©Colette Lewis 2012--
Although they may not be at the same level of fame as The Beatles or the University of Michigan basketball Fab Four, the four freshman playing for the UCLA Bruins have certainly made their mark on college tennis this week. Second-seeded UCLA's Robin Anderson, Skylar Morton, Chanelle Van Nguyen and Kaitlin Ray collected every singles point save one during their march to the school's first ITA Women's Team Indoor title, with Anderson delivering the clinching point at No. 1 singles in Monday's 4-0 win over top seed Duke.
"For them to do it here, under this pressure, it shows me they can handle the pressure," said UCLA head coach Stella Sampras Webster. "A lot of these are top juniors who have played US Opens, played in big moments, and it showed today that they could handle it. They stayed composed and finished it, and it was tough."
How tough? The doubles point alone took over ninety minutes to decide, and two and a half hours into the singles competition, UCLA's point from winning it was still the only point on the scoreboard.
Duke's Trice Capra and Rachel Kahan quickly took the No. 2 doubles over Anderson and Morton 8-2, but UCLA was up a break on the other two courts. At No. 1, Courtney Dolehide and Pam Montez of UCLA were protecting a precarious one-break lead over Ester Goldfeld and Mary Clayton, but the up-and-downs on Court 3 were much harder to track. Duke's Hanna Mar and Annie Mulholland got their break back from Carling Seguso and McCall Jones and went on to win three straight games for a 5-4 lead, but Mulholland was broken in the next game to make it 5-5. Seguso and Jones held and broke, giving Seguso a chance to serve for the match. Meanwhile, Goldfeld was serving to stay in the match on court 1, but after five deuces, and saving three match points, Duke eventually fell 8-4, turning all attention to court 3.
Seguso and Jones had two match points for an 8-5 win, but Seguso netted a forehand on one, and Mulholland angled away a volley winner to save the second. After Seguso hit two forehands long, they were back on serve, although Mulholland and Mar had to save two more match points with Mulholland serving at 6-7 before finally pulling even. Jones saved a break point on her serve in the next game, holding for 8-7, and a tiebreaker looked certain when Mar went up 40-0 on her serve. But a couple of errors from Mar and Mulholland, as well as some great defense by Seguso and Jones and suddenly it was deuce. Mar, who had been charging the net and not missing her first half-volleys sent one long to make it ad-out. She couldn't connect on her first serve, and caught her toss twice before finally hitting the ball into the net for a double fault, muting the celebration of the Bruin team after such an emotional 9-7 win.
"We were up 7-5 and it looked like we were in control, but Duke just finds a way to make us have to earn it," said Sampras Webster. "I think we got a little tight, lost a little of our composure, but we came back, stayed with our plan. They're both seniors, so they've been through it, and I'm so happy for them to be able to clinch it for us in doubles. That was a big point for us, because Duke's singles is so tough. We needed any advantage we could get."
UCLA came out in singles looking to build on that lead, and they took four first sets: Anderson at 1 over Capra, Jones at 2 over Mar, Morton over Kahan at 4 and Ray over Monica Turewicz at 6. Goldfeld had given Duke a first set at 3 over Montez and Clayton took the first set from Van Nguyen at 5, but the Blue Devils weren't able to get on the board.
"We just could not get that point on the board that we really needed," said Jamie Ashworth, Duke head coach. "We just couldn't get any kind of momentum at all. We did a great job battling back and winning four second sets, but they controlled the energy really well--at times it felt like we were playing at UCLA--and they did a really good job as a team."
Duke was not the only team to battle back however. UCLA also forced third sets with Van Nguyen winning the second over Clayton, after Clayton had fought back from 5-0 down in the second set, only to be broken serving at 4-5, and Montez denying Goldfeld in her two chances to serve for the match, at 5-4 and 6-5 in the second set. Jones had also served for the match twice for UCLA at 5-2 and 5-4 in the second set, but Mar won the final five games to take that match into a third. Kahan took the second from Morton, and Capra evened her match with Anderson at 1, with Ray the only UCLA player to stay in front throughout her match.
When Ray finally put the second point on the board, dealing freshman Turewicz her first loss of her college career by a 7-5, 6-4 score, UCLA had a break on three of the remaining courts. Van Nguyen was unable to serve out the third set against Clayton at 5-3, but she broke in the following game to give UCLA a 3-0 lead. Morton was serving for the match and the team championship at 5-4 in the final set, but Kahan broke to keep Duke in it and send the search for the fourth point to court 1, where Anderson had a 5-2 lead over Capra in the battle of the nation's top two freshmen. Every game had been a struggle for both players, but the final one was not. Anderson stepped up the pressure and Capra went down 0-40, giving Anderson three chances to grab the title for her team. She only needed one, hitting aggressively and deep on each ball, ultimately forcing Capra into netting a backhand. With three matches still going, two even and one in Duke's favor, it took a second for Anderson to find a teammate for the celebration, with Jones the first to realize Anderson's match was over and the title won.
"It was a great feeling," said the 18-year-old Anderson. "It was just a big relief that I was the one that won us the match."
Anderson was happy to get the win for her teammates, especially her fellow freshmen.
"We're all really close, the freshmen," said Anderson. "We all work really, really hard and it's nice to know that every match we play everybody's going to fight their hardest, play their best and just compete."
Despite UCLA's lofty ranking, Sampras Webster was unsure how good her very young team would be.
"Now I've got really high expectations," Sampras Webster said with a laugh. "I've learned what they can do, so maybe I'll expect a little bit more from them."
Ashworth was disappointed his team, which features three freshmen in the singles lineup, couldn't get on board.
"It's kind of too bad that at 4-0, we have nothing to show for that effort," said Ashworth, whose team won the Indoor championship in 2003. "It easily could have been 4-3, or 4-0 for us. People are going to say, 4-0, UCLA beat them bad, but I think four matches were 4 or 5 in the third. But they played a really good match and their freshmen played big at 4, 5, and 6 and 1 too."
Sampras Webster agreed there was little separating the two teams.
"It came our way this time, and we're going to enjoy it, but now people are going to be gunning for us. To be able to maintain this is going to be the challenge. But I think they're up for it. I think they're excited."
1. #23 Dolehide/Montez (UCLA) def. Clayton/Goldfield (DUKE) 8-4
2. Capra/Kahan (DUKE) def. #12 Anderson/Morton (UCLA) 8-2
3. Jones/Seguso (UCLA) def. Mar/Mulholland (DUKE) 9-7
1. #8 Anderson (UCLA) def. #7 Capra (DUKE) 6-1, 3-6, 6-2
2. #38 Mar (DUKE) vs. #62 Jones (UCLA) 1-6, 7-5, 4-2, unfinished
3. Goldfield (DUKE) vs. #70 Montez (UCLA) 6-1, 6-7, 4-3, unfinished
4. #118 Kahan (DUKE) vs. Skylar Morton (UCLA) 3-6, 6-3, 5-5, unfinished
5. Van Nguyen (UCLA) def. #66 Clayton (DUKE) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
6. Ray (UCLA) def. #35 Turewicz (DUKE) 7-5, 6-4