Defending Champion UCLA Returns to Women's Final Four, Joined by Georgia, Southern Cal and Vanderbilt
©Colette Lewis 2015--
Two of the Women's NCAA Division I Team Championships quarterfinals were played indoors and two were played outdoors Sunday, and when more than eleven hours of tennis ended, top seed Southern Cal, No. 4 seed Vanderbilt, No. 6 seed Georgia and defending champion UCLA, the No. 7 seed, had advanced to Monday's final four.
The day began at 9 a.m. at the Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center on the campus of Baylor University with the rematch of the 2014 women's final between North Carolina and UCLA. Although yet another in a seemingly never ending line of storms had passed by then, the first two matches of the day were kept indoors.
UCLA took the doubles point with wins at 1 and 2, and faced an uphill climb when UCLA took four first sets in singles. Bruin sophomore Jennifer Brady made it 2-0 with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Caroline Price at line 2.
At line 4, Whitney Kay put the Tar Heels on the board with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Catherine Harrison, handing Harrison only her second dual match loss of the season, but Chanelle Van Nguyen, displaying some great point construction and variety, restored UCLA's cushion with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Hayley Carter, making it 3-1.
Both courts 5 and 6 were in third sets, but if the Tar Heels were to come all the way back, they needed Jamie Loeb to get to a third set against Robin Anderson at line 1. Loeb led 5-1 in the second set, but Anderson got both breaks back. Loeb had three set points with Anderson serving at 5-6, but made errors on all three, leaving a tiebreaker to determine the fate of North Carolina's season. First serves were difficult to come by for both players in the tiebreaker, but Anderson, the nation's top-ranked player, was the steadier of the two in the rallies, taking a 5-0 lead and closing out a 6-3, 7-6(1) victory.
|Robin Anderson's teammates support her from sidelines|
"I think we played really well," said UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster. "This was a big match for us. We were prepared for them to come out really strong because of what happened last year. We got off to a really good start, but I never felt comfortable because I knew with North Carolina the second set was going to be really important, to close it out. And that's what Robin did. For her to do that made a huge difference, because we were battling on the other two courts."
UCLA will face Georgia, who dealt the Bruins one of their four losses of the year in the quarterfinals of the ITA Team Indoor back in February.
Georgia earned their first semifinal berth since 2009 with a 4-1 win over No. 14 seed Stanford.
The Bulldogs dominated the doubles point, with Lauren Herring and Ellen Perez overwhelming Taylor Davidson and Carol Zhao, the nation's second ranked team, 8-2 at line 1. Georgia's Caroline Brinson and Hannah King defeated Krista Hardebeck and Lindsey Kostas 8-2 at line 3, but due to an improper substitution of Kostas, who was not in the original lineup submitted, the Stanford team was defaulted after the match, making the official score 8-0.
The teams split first sets, with Georgia taking a 2-0 lead with Silvia Garcia's 6-2, 6-2 win over Caroline Doyle at line 3. Taylor Davidson brought Stanford to within one, with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Ellen Perez at line 2, but the Cardinal could not find another point. Stanford's Ellen Tsay and Krista Hardebeck forced third sets against Hannah King and Kennedy Shaffer at 5 and 4, but Georgia's Lauren Herring fought back against Carol Zhao to force a third set at line 1, an important psychological lift for the Bulldogs.
"That was huge," Wallace said. "There are things that happen in a team tennis match that affect other courts and I think Lauren winning that second set was one of those things. It stopped their momentum after they had won their match. She's such a great competitor and has had such an amazing career, she didn't want to stop, she wants to keep playing, and that's what this team is all about."
King and Shaffer were up a break in their third sets, and when King closed out Tsay 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, Shaffer had match points with Hardebeck serving at 1-5 in the third. But Hardebeck saved two match points and held, and Shaffer let another match point slip away serving for the match at 5-2. Hardebeck held at love, forcing Shaffer to serve out the match again. She missed a forehand on match point No. 4 and a backhand on match point No. 5, but finally connected with an inside out forehand approach on match point No. 6, taking a 6-3, 0-6, 6-4 victory. The first semester freshman's celebration indicated more relief than excitement, but Georgia had earned its place in the final four.
"I think Kennedy did a good job in that last game," said Wallace. "Got the lead in the game. She kept pounding on to the forehand, sticking to the game plan, and ultimately, that's what got us through."
Top seed USC, playing on the Grandstand courts against No. 8 Baylor, trailed the Bears during most of the doubles point, but Zoe Katz and Sabrina Santamaria, down 5-2 at line 1 against Ema Burgic and Rachael James-Baker, came back to clinch the point in a tiebreaker, winning it 8-7(1).
Baylor came out strong in the singles with Blair Shankle at 3 and Kiah Generette at 2 taking first sets quickly from Zoe Scandalis and Giuliana Olmos, but the USC freshmen trio of Madison Westby, Gabby Smith and Meredith Xepoleas all won their first sets in the bottom half of the lineup. At line 1, USC's Santamaria, who wears a heavy leg brace after tearing her ACL last season, took a medical timeout to readjust the tape on it down 2-5 in the first set, and from that point on was able to stay close with Baylor's Burgic.
Shankle served for the match at 6-0, 5-4 against Zoe Scandalis at line 3, but Scandalis won the next three games. Westby made it 2-0 USC with a 7-6(4), 6-2 win over James-Baker at 4 and Xepoleas followed with a 6-4, 6-2 decision over Kelley Anderson at 6 to make it 3-0.
Smith was up a break in the second set against Theresa Van Zyl at line 5, and had match points at 3-5, 15-40, but Van Zyl gave the Baylor fans reason to cheer by saving both and holding, forcing Smith to serve out the match. She did, taking a 6-1, 6-4 victory, but before she could do so, Burgic had won a second set tiebreaker to put Baylor on the board with a 6-2, 7-6(6) win over Santamaria.
USC coach Richard Gallien appreciated the contributions of his freshmen, who played with remarkable poise against the hometown team.
"They've just been terrific," said Gallien, whose team last reached the quarterfinals in 2012. "I'm so proud of them. It's not like our freshmen were the Kentucky basketball freshmen, this was just expected. They were good players, but they weren't the highest ranked juniors. We knew their character was terrific, that part we knew, but we didn't know they would be that good. They're really special, and not overwhelmed by it all."
Although USC needed nearly four hours to defeat Baylor, their opponent was still undecided with Vanderbilt and No. 5 seed Florida continuing their battle on the Riverside courts. Florida had taken a 3-1 lead, but Vanderbilt refused to concede, with the Commodores' Astra Sharma coming through with the final point in the 4-3 victory.
The cliche of a few points here or there deciding a match was certainly true in Vanderbilt's win, with Florida holding a match point in the tiebreaker that decided the doubles point, before Vanderbilt's Ashleigh Antal and Astra Sharma defeated Josie Kuhlman and Belinda Woolcock 8-7(8) at line 2.
Florida came out in singles looking determined to avoid their third loss of the year to their SEC rivals, with Belinda Woolcock beating Marie Casares 6-1, 6-4 at line 5, Kourtney Keegan downing Courtney Colton 6-3, 6-3 at line 4 and Brooke Austin defeating Sydney Campbell 6-3, 6-3 at line 1. Although Vanderbilt had taken first sets in two of the remaining matches, Florida's Peggy Porter was up 6-4, 3-3 over Antal at line six.
Frances Altick of Vanderbilt defeated Brianna Morgan 6-2, 6-4 at line 3 to cut Florida's lead to 3-2, but Florida's Kuhlman had forced a third set against Astra Sharma at line 2. Florida had two chances to finish, even after Porter dropped her second set to Antal, but Vanderbilt was having none of it. Antal took a 3-1 lead in the third set against Porter, and Sharma was up 4-2 over Kuhlman. Antal made it 3-3 with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 win over Porter, but Kuhlman had broken back, with that match at 4-4 in the third.
With a couple of forehand errors costing her, Kuhlman was broken by fellow freshman Sharma, who would serve for the match at 5-4.
Sharma took a 30-0 lead, but a rare unforced error and an excellent passing shot by Kuhlman made it 30-all. A long rally ended when Kuhlman tried a drop shot, which was answered by a better one by Sharma, who feathered it over the net on the forehand side for match point. Kuhlman took the offensive, but Sharma played some good defense, and it paid off when Kuhlman missed a forehand long on a short ball, putting Vanderbilt into the final four for the first time since 2004.
Kuhlman, emotionally devastated, was surrounded by her coaches and teammates, but eventually recovered enough to proceed to the net to shake hands with Sharma.
Vanderbilt coach Geoff Macdonald saw Antal's second set as pivotal.
"I thought a huge key was Ashleigh Antal getting the second set," Macdonald said. "That shifted things. And the way she won the third, 2 in the third, with her level of play going way up. Beating Peggy Porter 2 in the third, who is quite a good player. And words can't express what Astra just did. We saw it, and it was incredible."
Despite the win, Macdonald saw room for improvement.
"We played really well in some positions today and not well in others. We talk about winning and losing as a team, and when we show up with everyone, we're really good, and we'll try to do that with USC. They're a great team, they beat us 4-3 in February out in LA. I have a lot of respect for their coaching and their players, and what a thrill to play them in the final four."
For more on the women's quarterfinals, see the NCAA tournament page.
Although the weather forecast for Monday currently includes at least a 30% chance of rain all day, there has been no revision to the semifinal schedule, which has the men playing both semis at 1 pm Central and the women playing both semifinals at 5 pm.