©Colette Lewis 2013--
Stanford, Florida and UCLA, three gold standards in women's college tennis, will be joined by upstart Texas A&M in Monday evening's semifinals after all four teams collected victories Sunday at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center at the University of Illinois.
Temperatures reaching the lower 90s, a hot south breeze blowing, and the heat rule in effect didn't keep two Pac-12 teams from advancing, although the third, Cal, fell to top seed and two-time defending champion Florida 4-2.
Florida won a close doubles point, decided on court 1, after the eight-seeded Bears had taken line 2, and the Gators line 3, all by 8-4 scores.
Cal got on the board quickly, with Zsofi Susanyi dealing Florida junior Alex Cercone her first singles loss in NCAA competition by a 6-1, 6-1 score. The teams had split first sets, so Cal needed to turn one of the matches around to put pressure on the two-time defending champions, but it wouldn't be on court 1, where Lauren Embree, the nation's top-ranked player, ground down USTA/ITA Indoor finalist Anett Schutting 6-2, 6-0 to make it 2-1.
Olivia Janowicz made it 3-1 Florida with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Tayler Davis at line 5, and Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist didn't want to let Janowicz's contribution go unnoticed.
"She's really hitting on all cylinders now," Thornqvist said of the junior from Florida. "The last month, she's been automatic in her play and she manages herself really well. She doesn't get enough credit, some of the players on the top courts here get the credit, but the way she's playing and the way she's staying focused in her play is very helpful for the Gators."
Cal got the split they need on court 4, with Lynn Chi coming back from losing a 6-0 first set to take the second 6-1 over fellow freshman Brianna Morgan. Klara Fabikova of Cal made it 3-2, beating Sofie Oyen 7-5, 6-4 at line 2, but Caroline Hitimana of Florida had worked her way into position to close out her match with Annie Goransson at line 6 and the senior from Belgium put an end to the three-and-a-half-hour match with a 6-3, 6-2 win.
Fifteen minutes earlier, Stanford, seeded No. 12, had completed their 4-1 win over No. 4 seed Georgia, setting up a rare semifinal meeting between the two most decorated programs in women's college tennis.
It didn't look great for the Cardinal in the match's first hour, with Georgia totally dominating the doubles point, but once the singles began, Stanford took control, led by junior Kristie Ahn, who blew past Georgia's Maho Kowase 6-0, 6-1.
"I knew she was due for a win," said Stanford head coach Lele Forood. "She played really well Friday (in a loss to USC's Danielle Lao) and I think we all felt that she was going to assert herself."
With Stanford up a set in three other matches, Georgia needed to post a singles point to change the momentum, but Mia King was unable to close at Natalie Dillon at No. 6, despite a 6-1, 5-1 lead, and in the meantime, Stanford earned its second point, with Ellen Tsay defeating Ayaka Okuno 6-1, 6-2. Krista Hardebeck had earned a split with Georgia's Silvia Garcia at line 3, so Georgia was desperate for a boost, and they had hope when Lauren Herring took the second set of her match with Nicole Gibbs at 1, and Kate Fuller broke Stacey Tan serving for the match at 6-4, 5-4 at line 4.
Fuller was broken in the next game however, and Tan took her second chance to finish the match giving Stanford a 3-1 lead with her 6-4, 7-5 win. Hardebeck completed her comeback with 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Garcia, putting the Cardinal in the semifinals for the 28th time in 32 years.
Freshman Hardebeck is eager to play Florida for the second time in her brief college career.
"For as long as I can think back from watching Stanford tennis, it's always been Stanford and Florida," Hardebeck said. "So it's great to be here at NCAAs, with a five o'clock start time, kind of a night match, so it's going to be great."
Hardebeck's first exposure to what she calls the "fierce" rivalry was back in February when Stanford dropped a 4-2 decision to the Gators in a dual match that finished indoors due to rain in Gainesville. Embree, on the other hand, has seen the Cardinal at some of the biggest moments in her illustrious college career, including clinching the 2011 national title against Mallory Burdette in a third set tiebreaker after trailing 4-0 in the final set of the last match on.
"They're a great team always," said Embree, a senior from Florida. "We always have great matches and we're looking forward to another tough, long match."
"I had a feeling they were going to go deep in this tournament," Thornqvist said. "When we played them in February at home that team, I thought at that point, was wicked good. We played really well to get out of that jam."
In the 4 p.m. matches, No. 3 seed Texas A&M is making school history with every victory, and their 4-0 win over No. 6 Miami was an impressive display for a team new to the NCAA stage.
"They're an awful tough team to beat," said Texas A&M's second-year coach Howard Joffe. "We absolutely took a commanding lead in everything, but true to form, Miami fought and clawed their way back and the match became awful interesting."
Asked if he was surprised by his team's success this season and their sudden rise to the top of the women's game Joffe was ambivalent.
"Looking at what Texas A&M was ranked two years when I got the job, they were in the 30s, so it's absolutely not plausible," Joffe admitted. "But with respect to the players that are on the team, it's not shocking to me that we've come this far. We've got eight very, very good players, so in that respect, it's not so surprising, and yet in the context of a program being somewhere and then ending up in the final four a year and a half later, it is sort of hard to believe."
Urbina, a senior from Mexico who recorded her 100th singles win as an Aggie today, can also appreciate the distance the team has traveled in just two years.
"One of my goals when I came to A&M was to get them a conference championship and become one of the top 10, top 5 in the nation," said Urbina. "It's a dream come true. It's special for me and for all the girls because we're making history at the university and I'm really happy for my teammates and the university because they deserve that and even more."
The seventh-seeded Bruins had taken the doubles point in that February match in Charlottesville, Virginia, but Sunday evening the No. 2 Tar Heels started singles play with a 1-0 lead.
At one stage in singles play all six courts had score of 5-4, but it was the Bruins who took five first sets. With the UCLA men's team cheering her on, Pac-12 champion Kyle McPhillips pulled the Bruins even with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Zoe De Bruycker.
Robin Anderson delivered the Bruins' second point, defeating Gina Suarez-Malaguti 7-5, 6-1 at line 1, reversing the outcome of that matchup at the Indoor, which Suarez-Malaguti had won 6-3, 6-4. Pam Montez, who had lost a third-set tiebreak to North Carolina's Whitney Kay in the deciding match, earned a 6-4, 6-4 win over Kay to make it 3-1, but Montez said it wasn't revenge that drove her.
"It wasn't really a payback type of thing," said Montez, a senior from Mexico. "Coming into the match I wasn't thinking, oh, they took it from us. The goal was always NCAAs. The goal is to win, and if we lose tomorrow, it will definitely be disappointing."
Once Montez made it 3-1, it looked as if Chanelle Van Nguyen would end the match sooner rather than later when she broke UNC's Caroline Price to serve for the match at 7-5, 5-4 at line 4. But Price buckled down, broke, held and broke, sending that match into a third set, where the other two matches already were. North Carolina's Tessa Lyons had forced a third set against Courtney Dolehide at line 6, and UCLA's Catherine Harrison had won the second set over Lauren McHale at line 5.
UCLA took leads in all three matches, but it was Harrison who finished the job, defeating McHale 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 to end the nearly four-hour match.
"They came out with tremendous fight early on, with a lot of revenge on their mind, I guess," said North Carolina head coach Brian Kalbas. "They won a lot of close first sets and we got a little discouraged. We were looking around, we weren't as focused, but I give them credit. They played really well, and I think they handled the wind a lot better than we did. We just didn't take some of the early opportunities we had."
UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster was concerned after dropping the doubles point Sunday.
"We won the doubles at the Indoor and had that momentum, and this time we didn't," said Sampras Webster. "Robin and Pam knew they had to step up and both of them are playing much better than they did in January and it's great to see them win those matches that they had lost earlier in the year. I think it's going to help them for tomorrow, with their confidence."
Unlike their current rivalry with North Carolina, UCLA has little history with Texas A&M.
"We've never played them," said Sampras Webster. "I know they're very good, they've beaten Florida, beaten a lot of great teams. We're going to have to find some notes from someone, but I know they're going to be tough. I know our team is really excited. We're very talented, and we just need to be sure we get them ready for tomorrow physically, because I know mentally, they'll be up for it."
The men's semifinals, with No. 2 Virginia facing No. 3 Georgia and No. 1 UCLA facing No. 5 Ohio State, will begin at 1 p.m. CDT, with the women's semifinals to follow at 5 p.m. For live streaming and stats, see the tournament central page.
No. 1 Florida 4, No. 8 California 2
Noon CT – South Courts
1. #1 Lauren Embree (FLA) def. #8 Anett Schutting (CAL) 6-2, 6-0
2. #43 Klara Fabikova (CAL) def. #17 Sofie Oyen (FLA) 7-5, 6-4
3. #5 Zsofi Susanyi (CAL) def. #51 Alexandra Cercone (FLA) 6-1, 6-1
4. #70 Lynn Chi (CAL) vs. #89 Brianna Morgan (FLA) 0-6, 6-1, 4-1*
5. #123 Olivia Janowicz (FLA) def. Tayler Davis (CAL) 6-1, 6-1
6. #116 Caroline Hitimana (FLA) def. Annie Goransson (CAL) 6-3, 6-2
1. #11 Embree/Oyen (FLA) def. #33 Shutting/Chi (CAL) 8-4
2. Fabikova/Goransson (CAL) def. Cercone/Hitmana (FLA) 8-4
3. Collins/Morgan (FLA) def. Davis/Chui (CAL) 8-4
Order of Finish: Doubles (2,3,1); Singles (3,1,5,2,6)
* = unfinished
No. 12 Stanford 4, No. 4 Georgia 1
Noon CT – North Courts
1. #13 Nicole Gibbs (STAN) vs. #6 Lauren Herring (UGA) 6-1, 3-6, 3-0*
2. #25 Kristie Ahn (STAN) def. #19 Maho Kowase (UGA) 6-0, 6-1
3. #14 Krista Hardebeck (STAN) def. #104 Silvia Garcia (UGA) 2-6, 6-1, 6-1
4. #103 Stacey Tan (STAN) def. Kate Fuller (UGA) 6-4, 7-5
5. #92 Ellen Tsay (STAN) def. Ayaka Okuno (UGA) 6-1, 6-2
6. Mia King (UGA) vs. Natalie Dillon (STAN) 6-1, 6-5*
1. #1 Fuller/Garcia (UGA) def. #8 Ahn/Gibbs (STAN) 8-5
2. #52 Herring/Kowase (UGA) vs. #28 Tan/Tsay (STAN) 6-4*
3. Kimbell/King (UGA) def. Dillon/Hardebeck (STAN) 8-3
Order of Finish: Doubles (1,3); Singles (2,5,4,3)
* = unfinished
No. 3 Texas A&M 4, No. 6 Miami 0
4 p.m. CT – North Courts
1. #4 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (TAMU) def. #60 Stephanie Wagner (MIA) 7-5, 6-4
2. #68 Cristina Stancu (TAMU) def. #81 Kelsey Laurente (MIA) 6-1, 6-4
3. #52 Nazari Urbina (TAMU) def. #105 Lina Lilekite (MIA) 6-1, 6-4
4. #102 Clementina Riobueno (MIA) vs. Ines Deheza (TAMU) 7-5, 4-2*
5. Anna Mamalat (TAMU) vs. Monique Albuquerque (MIA) 6-4, 6-6*
6. Stefania Hristov (TAMU) vs. Melissa Bolivar (MIA) 7-5, 5-6*
1. #18 Stancu/Hristov (TAMU) def. Albuquerque/Riobueno (MIA) 8-2
2. #49 Wen/Sanchez-Quintanar (TAMU) vs. Bolivar/Laurente (MIA) 5-4*
3. Deheza/Deheza (TAMU) def. Wagner/Dubins (MIA) 8-2
Order of Finish: Doubles (3,1); Singles (2,1,3)
* = unfinished
No. 7 UCLA 4, No. 2 North Carolina 1
4 p.m. CT – South Courts
1. #3 Robin Anderson (UCLA) def. #7 Gina Suarez-Malaguti (UNC) 7-5, 6-1
2. #20 Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) def. #49 Zoe De Bruycker (UNC) 6-4, 6-1
3. Pamela Montez (UCLA) def. #39 Whitney Kay (UNC) 6-4, 6-4
4. Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA) vs. #46 Caroline Price (UNC) 7-5, 5-7, 3-2*
5. #93 Catherine Harrison (UCLA) def. Lauren McHale (UNC) 5-7, 7-5, 6-3
6. Courtney Dolehide (UCLA) vs. Tessa Lyons (UNC) 6-4, 4-6, 3-2*
1. #58 Price/Kay (UNC) def. #25 Anderson/Morton (UCLA) 8-4
2. McHale/Dai (UNC) vs. #38 Dolehide/Montez (UCLA) 5-4*
3. Suarez-Malaguti/Lyons (UNC) def. Harrison/McPhillips (UCLA) 8-2
Order of Finish: Doubles (2,3); Singles (2,1,3,5)
* = unfinished