North Carolina Claims Women's National Team Indoor Title 4-3 with Kay's Victory in Third Set Tiebreaker
|The 2013 ITA Women's Team Indoor Champions North Carolina|
©Colette Lewis 2013--
By the narrowest of margins, no wider than the broken string on Bruin Pam Montez's racquet in the third set tiebreaker of the deciding match, the University of North Carolina squeezed past defending champion UCLA 4-3 Monday afternoon, claiming the ITA Women's Team Indoor Championship, the first national team title in the program's history.
With the match tied at 3-3, all eyes at the Boar's Head Sports Club were on court 3, with Kay up a mini-break 4-3 in the third set tiebreaker and serving. Early in the point, the unmistakable plink of a broken string came from Montez's racquet. The senior from Mexico, who has a delicate touch and had already hit a drop volley winner earlier in the pressure-packed tiebreaker, kept the rally going in spite of her handicap, hitting deep looping shots four or five times before a big forehand by Kay was finally too much for Montez, and her response sailed way beyond the baseline.
It was 5-3 for Kay, instead of 4-4, and when Kay hit a clean backhand winner on the next point, Montez was facing three match points. She saved two on her serve, one on a forehand putaway and one on Kay's missed backhand return, but not the third. Eager to get to the net, Montez hit her approach shot straight up the middle and Kay passed her with a well-struck forehand to set off the championship celebration for the Tar Heels.
"It's obviously hard for her, breaking a string on a really big point like that," said Kay, a freshman from Alpharetta, Ga. "But it's also hard for the person on the opposite side of the court, because you think, I can't lose the point to a person with a broken string. It's hard, because you don't want to go for too much, just keep the ball in the court and wait for your opportunity."
UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster was philosophical about the unfortunate timing of Montez's broken string.
"It was just bad luck," said Sampras Webster, whose team had played in three consecutive National Team Championships, also losing in the NCAA final last May. "Sometimes we get breaks, sometimes we don't get breaks, so that's just the way it is. That's life. But Pam fought hard and it was a great match."
North Carolina coach Brian Kalbas thought Kay might have wasted her opportunity to win the match when she had her first match point with Montez serving at 4-5, 30-40 in the third set. After hitting a couple of big forehands and getting Montez on the defensive, Kay approached the service line and had the ball right where she wanted it for a swinging forehand volley, but it caught the tape, and Montez held for 5-5.
(To see video of Kay's unsuccessful match point, click here.)
"It was tough at the time, because that's a shot I usually don't miss," said Kay. "I thought I had it. But I was thinking it needs to be one point at a time. I need to come back from that and just play my game."
Kalbas had seen Kay come through in a similar circumstance in the quarterfinals against USC's Zoe Scandalis, going from 3-0 down in the third set to a 6-3 win in another last-match-on situation. But against Montez, Kay wasn't getting any free points.
"You've got to beat her," said Kalbas of Montez. "She made zero unforced errors in that third set. Whitney got a little nervous on that first match point, on that swinging volley, but just like she did against Southern Cal, she composed herself and did a amazing job of finishing it off."
For all the excitement at the end of the match, there was precious little at the beginning, when UCLA took an early lead on all three doubles courts and less than 50 minutes later had pocketed the point. Freshmen Kyle McPhillips and Catherine Harrison were first off the court for UCLA, beating North Carolina's Lauren McHale and Tessa Lyons 8-4 at line 3. Courtney Dolehide and Montez of UCLA also had a big lead at 2 over Gina Suarez-Malaguti and Zoe De Bruycker, but it was Robin Anderson and Skylar Morton who delivered the second win, beating Kay and Ashley Dai at line 1 8-6, winning a deciding point in the no-ad scoring to take the match on their serve.
Fortunately for the Tar Heel fans scattered around the courts, their team had recent history to console them. Against No. 3 seed USC in the quarterfinals, North Carolina had also dropped the doubles point, and yet had found a way to win four singles matches from one of the best lineups in the country.
"I think the other night helped a lot," said Kay. "Seeing that we could lose the doubles point and still come back and win. Obviously, it was a little discouraging at first, but we all came out and fought for it."
North Carolina announced their intentions early in the singles, going up a break in the first set on five of the six courts. They held on to four of those, with Suarez-Malaguti, Kay, Caroline Price and Lyons taking first sets. UCLA's two first sets came from Chanelle Van Nguyen at line 4 and, eventually, Kyle McPhillips at line 2.
McPhillips and De Bruycker battled for nearly an hour before McPhillips took a 4-3 lead in the first set, but McPhillips won the last two games quickly to give UCLA hope.
Van Nguyen added to that optimism by earning UCLA's second point with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Lauren McHale. Montez, who was down 3-0 to Kay in the second set after losing the first 6-2, won six of the next seven games to earn a split. Anderson, down 4-1 in the second set to Suarez-Malaguti on court 1, had gotten back on serve at 4-4, but she wasn't able to sustain that momentum, with Suarez-Malaguti holding and breaking to give the Tar Heels their first point.
By then De Bruycker was nearing a split with McPhillips, and Price, who had dropped the second set to Catherine Harrison on court 5, was up 3-0 in the third. Lyons, who did not play in the Tar Heels semifinal win over Duke, pulled North Carolina even with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Dolehide on court 6.
Less than five minutes later, Price finished off Harrison 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 to give North Carolina its first lead of the day, and trailing 3-2, UCLA had to win both matches still on courts 2 and 3 to retain their title.
Both matches were early in the third set, with Kay leading 2-1 on serve and McPhillips and De Bruycker just beginning their third set. McPhillips and De Bruycker started with three breaks of serve until McPhillips held for 3-1, and when she earned her second break and a 4-1 lead, it was apparent that court 3 would decide it.
Kay had two golden opportunities to end the match slip by with Montez serving at 3-4. At 15-40, Kay had two break points to serve for the match, but four straight Kay unforced errors later, Montez had held. After failing to seize her match point in Montez's next service game, it appeared Kay may have let too many chances go by, but holding her serves relatively easily in her last two service games helped ease her into the tiebreaker.
|Kay embraced by her teammates after heart-pounding win|
"I was a lot more nervous about it today," said Kay, who said she primarily felt excitement during her win over Scandalis in the quarterfinals. "I was excited, but I was a lot more nervous. I just think one point at a time, and try to block the crowd out. It was getting really loud, but I can usually ignore them."
As the volume rose, culminating in the Tar Heels celebrating their first team national championship, the tension that built up over the four-hour contest left spectators and players and coaches alike shaking after its release.
Asked if he thought his team was the best in the country now, Kalbas said, "maybe for one weekend."
"We definitely had the hardest road to the championship," added Kalbas, whose team defeated No. 3 seed USC, No. 2 seed Duke and top seed UCLA in successive days. "We've got amazing competitors on this team, and we just never give up. We fight and stay together and we're a very close team. I think those things speak volumes when it comes down to close matches like that. I'm really excited and happy for our program and our players, to win this and have it be the first time for our program."
Sampras Webster was equally proud of her team.
"It was great tennis. Pam I'm really proud of," said Sampras Webster. "Whitney Kay played unbelievable. We didn't lose that match, Whitney played well. I'm really proud of my team. We've grown a lot here, and I'm happy to see the way my team's coming together. It was a good tournament for us."
North Carolina 4, UCLA 3
1. #11 Gina Suarez-Malaguti (NC) def. #6 Robin Anderson (UCLA) 6-3, 6-4
2. #47 Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) def. #28 Zoe De Bruycker (NC) 6-3, 2-6, 6-2
3. #21 Whitney Kay (NC) def. #96 Pamela Montez (UCLA) 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5)
4. Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA) def. #111 Lauren McHale (NC) 6-4, 6-0
5. #36 Caroline Price (NC) def. Catherine Harrison (UCLA) 6-2, 2-6, 6-2
6. #101 Tessa Lyons (NC) def. Courtney Dolehide (UCLA) 6-1, 6-4
1. #16 Robin Anderson/Skylar Morton (UCLA) def. #8 Ashley Dai/Whitney Kay (NC) 8-6
2. Courtney Dolehide/Pamela Montez (UCLA) vs. Gina Suarez-Malaguti/Zoe De Bruycker (NC) 7-3, unfinished
3. Kyle McPhillips/Catherine Harrison (UCLA) def. #51 Lauren McHale/Tessa Lyons (NC) 8-4
Order of finish: Doubles (3,1); Singles (4,1,6,5,2,3)