©Colette Lewis 2012--
After all the upsets and drama during the ITA Team Indoor tournament's first two rounds, Monday morning's final will feature the teams expected to be there before it started: top seed Duke and second seed UCLA.
But despite their lofty seeds, question marks surrounded the Blue Devils and Bruins, with both teams playing lots of freshmen, and looking less than impressive in the early rounds.
In Sunday's semifinals, they displayed the potential attributed to them, with Duke defeating No. 5 seed Cal 4-1, and UCLA downing unseeded Pac-12 rival University of Southern California 4-0.
Duke took the doubles point from Cal, with the Blue Devils No. 2 team of Beatrice Capra and Rachel Kahan getting off the court first with an 8-3 win over Annie Goransson and Anett Schutting. Cal's top team of Jana Juricova and Zsofi Susanyi were in command on Court 1, leading 7-2 over Mary Clayton and Ester Goldfeld, so Court 3 was likely to decide it. Duke's Hanna Mar and Annie Mulholland led Tayler Davis and Cecilia Estlander 6-2, but the Bears got one of the breaks back to make it 6-4, only to be broken again for 7-4. Cal saved three match points after Mar and Mulholland went up 40-0 in the final game, during which Cal took the match at 1. But there was no comeback, and Mar served it out to post a 8-4 win.
Duke started out well in singles, winning first sets in four of the six matches at lines three through six. Freshman Monica Turewicz gave Duke a 2-0 lead with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Estlander at No. 6, and Kahan downed Goransson 6-0, 6-2 a few minutes later to give Duke a 3-0 lead.
But Cal was leading at 1, where senior Jana Juricova was in top form against Capra, and the Bears had a glimmer of hope when Susanyi made it 3-1 with a dominant 6-2, 6-1 victory over Mar at line two. Davis had battled back to take a 4-1 lead in the second set over Goldfeld at No. 3, but Cal needed Schutting's point at 5 against Clayton, who had trailed 5-3 in the first set. Clayton had stormed back to take the set 7-5 and was leading 4-0 in the second, and when Schutting lost a long game serving down 0-4, it was just a matter of time before the Blue Devils could start looking ahead to their first Team Indoor final since 2003.
"I changed my mindset to a more aggressive one," said Clayton, who won the final ten games in her 7-5, 6-0 victory. "I looked to move forward and pull her off the court and that really helped me finishing off the first and going into the second."
Head coach Jamie Ashworth, who led the Blue Devils to a 4-3 win over Florida in 2003 for their only Team Indoor title, was pleased to see his team, not only return to the final again, but to shake off their lackluster first round match against Ole Miss.
"It's been a long time since we've been in the finals here, and especially after the first day we had here," said Ashworth. "We talked about getting another chance, and we've gotten better every day. After that first day, they left us a lot of room to get better, as I joked with them about that, but we've done it. That was a really good Cal team, and going into that match I was definitely a little bit nervous, but that was the best we've played all year, by far."
UCLA also appears to be peaking, as they too had a slow start in the tournament, losing the doubles point to Georgia Tech before emerging with a 4-2 victory in the first round.
"Coming into this tournament, I really didn't know what to expect," admitted Bruin head coach Stella Sampras Webster. "We are the second seeds, but we hadn't proven anything with this team, so to battle against Georgia Tech in a tough match, and beating Northwestern, I think we've played better and better throughout the tournament, and we played extremely well today."
UCLA took the doubles point from unseeded USC, who Sampras Webster called "probably the most improved team in the country."
After USC took the No. 3 doubles, with Valeria Pullido and Zoe Scandalis beating McCall Jones and Carling Seguso 8-4, UCLA needed the top two courts. At line one, Robin Anderson and Skylar Morton beat USC's Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria, the reigning individual indoor champions, 8-6, but the score was only 4-3 on court two, where UCLA's Pamela Montez and Chanelle Van Nguyen, playing together for the first time, led Danielle Lao and Ali Ramos. Van Nguyen held her serve after a long game to make it 5-3, and USC couldn't get any closer, although it took four match points before Van Nguyen and Montez collected the 8-5 victory and gave UCLA a 1-0 lead.
USC had lost the doubles point in its previous two wins over North Carolina and Tennessee, but against UCLA, they weren't able to get a quick singles point to turn the momentum around.
Kaitlin Ray roared out to a 6-0, 2-0 lead over Ramos at line six, and UCLA also took the first set at 1, 4, and 5. Santamaria had taken a quick first set for USC at line three, and Lao was up 5-2 with two breaks at No. 2, but she was unable to finish off the set against Jones, who won four straight games to take a 6-5 lead. After nearly 90 minutes, Lao and Jones had yet to finish their first set, while USC's Zoe Scandalis had taken the second set from Robin Anderson at No. 1.
Ray gave UCLA a 2-0 lead with a 6-0, 6-3 win, and Morton followed with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Christian at No. 4 to make it 3-0. DeSimone had taken Van Nguyen to a third set, but Van Nguyen was up 4-1 in the third. Lao had the finally taken the first set from Jones in a tiebreaker, but Montez had earned a third set against Santamaria, so it looked as if Van Nguyen would have the opportunity to clinch for the second straight match. The freshman from Florida, who started school just last month, came through again, beating DeSimone 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 to put UCLA in the Indoor final for the first time since 1995.
"I'm so excited," said Van Nguyen. "It's like the first time I've clinched--that's what's it's called isn't it? This is all new to me. But I'm excited, especially today, because we beat our biggest rival."
Van Nguyen is one of four freshman playing singles for UCLA, while Duke has three freshman in their singles lineup.
"The coaching staff has been working really hard to get the freshmen up to speed," said Sampras Webster, who will be in search of UCLA's first Indoor title Monday. "Because they do lack experience, they do lack knowing what goes on, so it's good to see them buying in, and seeing it pay off. The freshmen have been showing us a lot, and we've been learning a lot about them, and it's nice to have those strong players at 4, 5 and 6. That helps, and we're very deep."
UCLA upset Duke in last year's NCAA quarterfinals, but with so many new faces on both teams, that result probably won't have much motivational value.
"We only have two returning, playing singles, and that's probably about the same for them," said Sampras Webster. "So it's starting pretty much over. But Duke's a strong team, and they've proven it. We'd like to finish the tournament with a win, and not just be satisfied getting to our seed. This is such a great opportunity to play such a highly ranked team, and we're going to be up for it."
For the complete results from today's matches, including the consolation matches, see the ITA tournament page.
The final is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. on Monday.