North Carolina Downs Defending Champion Stanford 4-3 to Reach Women's Division I Championship Final Against UCLA
©Colette Lewis 2014--
Kristie Ahn clinched the national championship for Stanford last year in Urbana, Ill. as the last match on in the Cardinal's 4-3 victory over Texas A&M. This year in Athens, Ahn, now a senior, was the last match on in Stanford's semifinal match with North Carolina, but this time she fell victim to what Cardinal head coach Lele Forood called a "really, really brilliant player," Tar Heel freshman Jamie Loeb, who defeated Ahn 6-7(4), 6-0, 6-0 to put North Carolina in the program's first NCAA team final.
North Carolina, the No. 7 seed, will face No. 5 seed UCLA in Tuesday's final after the Bruins held off a determined effort by No. 8 Florida to claim a 4-0 victory.
Loeb had had practice in reeling off six games in row, starting with doubles, when she and Hayley Carter fell behind Ahn and Carol Zhao 5-2 at line 1, but ran the table to clinch the doubles point for the Tar Heels with an 8-5 win.
"It's hard to win four singles matches against Stanford, as anybody can attest," said North Carolina coach Brian Kalbas. "Winning that doubles point really gave us the momentum going in, the belief that we could do it."
Carter put up the second point, a 6-2, 6-1 win over Krista Hardebeck at line 2, but Stanford held the advantage on courts 4, 5, and 6. The Cardinal was able to get on the board with Taylor Davidson's 6-3, 6-2 win over Whitney Kay at line 4.
A key match for the Tar Heels was Caroline Price's 6-4, 6-4 win over freshman Carol Zhao at line 3, which gave Carolina a 3-1 lead. Zhao was 19-1 in dual matches this season, and Kalbas knew the significance of Price's victory.
"It was huge, it was gigantic," Kalbas said. "I cannot overstate that. Zhao's obviously the best freshman, she was ahead of Jamie, ahead of Hayley going into the fall, she was listed as the best freshman, and she's had an incredible year. Caroline really stepped up today and played amazing. Zhao's not only a great player but a great competitor, with Caroline getting up 3-0 in the second, but she just came right back. Then Caroline settled in and really played clutch tennis for us. That was a big, big win for us, that allowed Jamie to do what she did."
Stanford posted the points on courts 5 and 6, with Ellen Tsay defeating Kate Vialle 6-2, 7-6(4) and Caroline Doyle downing Tessa Lyons 6-2, 6-3. By that time, with the score now 3-3, Loeb had taken control of the second set leading two breaks at 3-0, after a lengthy first set of excellent tennis from both women.
Loeb closed out the second set at love, and Ahn needed a fresh start in the third, knowing there was no margin for error in the final set. She was broken in the first game however, and Loeb kept the pressure on.
"Even though she did play well in the first set, I think as the match went on she started to break down," said Loeb, who hadn't lost a set since March 9 and is now 50-2 in her first year of collegiate competition. "I gained momentum and physically I was fine throughout the match, and I think that was a pretty big advantage on my part. I stayed pretty calm down there and didn't let the pressure get to me."
Unlike North Carolina, Stella Sampras' UCLA teams have plenty of experience in the finals, having earned their fifth trip Monday with their 4-0 win over Florida, a score that hardly told the story.
The doubles point came down to two tiebreakers at lines 1 and 2, and the Bruins won them both.
"I think winning that doubles point was a big point in the whole match," said UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster, whose team has not lost a doubles point this season. "We've been used to winning the doubles point and it really came down to a point here or there and we were fortunate to win those two tiebreakers. We came out just a little tight in doubles and once we won the doubles point I think we came out in singles really aggressive and played some really good tennis."
UCLA won five first sets in singles and looked to be cruising, but it was far from over, even after Jennifer Brady defeated Florida's Olivia Janowicz 6-1, 6-1 at line 2 and Robin Anderson beat Brianna Morgan 6-1, 6-3 at line to give UCLA a quick 3-0 lead.
UCLA's Catherine Harrison had a match point with Belinda Woolcock serving at at 4-5 in the second set at line 5, while on the next court, court 4, Chanelle Van Nguyen was serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set against Alex Cercone, with either able to close out the Gators in relatively routine fashion. But Woolcock won the match point, and both she and Cercone forced tiebreakers.
"That's where they're tough," said Sampras. "The Florida players, after the first set, it's not over at all. Those second sets were tough to close, because the Florida players were not going to give us anything. We had to beat them."
The player that sent the Bruins to the final turned out to be Kaitlyn Ray, who had lost the second set to Kourtney Keegan at line 6, but held on to her lead ending the 3-hour and 45-minute match with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 victory.
For Ray, a junior who not been able to play in either of the previous two NCAA championships due to injury, just taking the court was a victory of sorts.
"The NCAAs are obviously the best atmosphere in college tennis, so I'm really thankful to be out there and helping," said Ray. "It was definitely worth waiting two years for this...I'm lucky to have such great teammates who had my back when I didn't have such a good night against Duke. It's what you get up in the morning for, a chance to play for a national title."
Florida coach Roland Thornqvist was happy with the competitive spirit shown by his team, but he was full of praise for UCLA, who the Gators defeated in the final here in Athens two years ago.
"We lost to a better team, that's just reality," said Thornqvist. "I don't think we hung our heads after losing the doubles point, even though it was big momentum for them. I thought we had good opportunities in singles, but they really took it to us early. It was downhill for them, uphill for us from the very first ball and I thought the match could be over an hour, an hour and a half earlier. We always like to say the third hour of singles is where our play starts to have an effect on players, and we really try to get there and we were oh so close I felt like to turn the momentum a little bit, but this UCLA team has a lot of class. They are good from 1 to 6 with ballstrikers in some spots and grinders who can keep the ball in, like at 6. All the credit, obviously to UCLA; it's a fantastic team and today we lost to a better team."
As for the final, Forood's loyalties are with the Pac-12, but she isn't counting out North Carolina.
"They are going to see an awfully talented lineup in UCLA," Forood said of the Tar Heels prospects. "They'll see outstanding doubles from them at three spots, so it's not going to be easy for them. What they do have is a really, really brilliant player at the top of the lineup who can inspire, so we'll see if that's enough for them."
Women’s Semifinal: #5 UCLA (26-2) def. #8 FLORIDA (23-6), 4-0 - Henry Feild Stadium
Doubles (Order of finish: 2,1)
1. #1 Robin Anderson/Jennifer Brady (UCLA) def. Alexandra Cercone/Kourtney Keegan (FLORIDA), 8-7(5)
2. #9 Catherine Harrison/Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) def. #27 Sofie Oyen/Belinda Woolcock (FLORIDA), 8-7(5)
3. Courtney Dolehide/Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA) vs. Brianna Morgan/Olivia Janowicz (FLORIDA), 6-6, unf.
Singles (Order of finish: 2,1,6)
1. #2 Robin Anderson (UCLA) def. #16 Brianna Morgan (FLORIDA), 6-1, 6-3
2. #8 Jennifer Brady (UCLA) def. #14 Olivia Janowicz (FLORIDA), 6-1, 6-1
3. #38 Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) vs. #70 Sofie Oyen (FLORIDA), 6-7(3), 6-4, unf.
4. #13 Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA) vs. #28 Alexandra Cercone (FLORIDA), 6-2, 6-6, unf.
5. #75 Catherine Harrison (UCLA) vs. #99 Belinda Woolcock (FLORIDA), 6-3, 6-7(2), 3-1, unf.
6. Kaitlin Ray (UCLA) def. #67 Kourtney Keegan (FLORIDA), 6-3, 3-6, 6-2
Women’s Semifinal: #7 NORTH CAROLINA (29-5) def. #11 STANFORD (20-3), 4-3 - McWhorter Courts
Doubles (Order of finish: 2,3,1)
1. #3 Jamie Loeb/Hayley Carter (NORTH CAROLINA) def. #10 Kristie Ahn/Carol Zhao (STANFORD), 8-5
2. #13 Whitney Kay/Caroline Price (NORTH CAROLINA) def. #50 Taylor Davidson/Ellen Tsay (STANFORD), 8-2
3. Caroline Doyle/Krista Hardebeck (STANFORD) def. Ashley Dai/Tessa Lyons (NORTH CAROLINA), 8-4
Singles (Order of finish: 2,4,3,6,5,1)
1. #1 Jamie Loeb (NORTH CAROLINA) def. #3 Kristie Ahn (STANFORD), 6-7(4), 6-0, 6-0
2. #5 Hayley Carter (NORTH CAROLINA) def. #51 Krista Hardebeck (STANFORD), 6-2, 6-1
3. #59 Caroline Price (NORTH CAROLINA) def. #21 Carol Zhao (STANFORD), 6-4, 6-4
4. #50 Taylor Davidson (STANFORD) def. Whitney Kay (NORTH CAROLINA), 6-3, 6-2
5. #54 Ellen Tsay (STANFORD) def. Kate Vialle (NORTH CAROLINA), 6-2, 7-6(4)
6. #57 Caroline Doyle (STANFORD) def. Tessa Lyons (NORTH CAROLINA), 6-2, 6-3