©Colette Lewis 2015--
It was another day of rain and of shifts from outdoor to indoor tennis, with the women's NCAA team round of 16 starting Friday at Baylor. No. 2 seed North Carolina was able to secure the doubles point against No. 15 Miami before heavy morning rains forced a move to the Hawkins Indoor Tennis Cente, but No. 10 seed Texas A&M wasn't as fortunate, with its deciding doubles match with No. 7 seed UCLA halted with the Aggies serving for the match at 7-6 30-30.
After play resumed indoors, Texas A&M won two points and had the lead over the defending champions, but that was the only point they would collect in the Bruins 4-1 win.
Jennifer Brady put UCLA on the scoreboard with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Rutuja Bhosale at line 3, and Chanelle Van Nguyen followed with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Saska Gavriloska to make it 2-1 Bruins, but Robin Anderson had lost the first set to A&M's Rachel Pierson at line 1, so the match was far from assured for UCLA.
With only three courts available for each match, the 4, 5, and 6 players took the courts in order after matches finished. Anderson, who has a reputation as a slow starter, found another gear and rolled past Pierson 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, completely eliminating the free points she was giving Pierson in the first set. Pac-12 champion Catherine Harrison had taken the court for UCLA against Ines Deheza at line 4, and had a 4-0 lead, so she was the likely candidate for clinching, but she had to come from 3-5 down in the second set, winning the final four games in the 6-1, 7-5.
In the match on the other three indoor courts, North Carolina led 3-0 when Caroline Price rolled over Miami's Silvia Fuentes 6-0, 6-2 at line 3 and Haley Carter followed with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Sinead Lohan at line 2. As with UCLA, North Carolina's top player Jamie Loeb also dropped the first set, with Loeb going up a break twice in the first, only to see Miami's Stephanie Wagner break back immediately. Wagner held for 6-5 and Loeb was broken at love to give Miami its first real hope of a comeback. Loeb battled back to take the second set, and Tar Heel Whitney Kay served for the first set at 5-4, but Lena Lileikite won the next three games to take put another first set on the board for Miami.
The third set of the Loeb - Wagner match went to another level, with lengthy deuce games but no breaks until 3-all. With Wagner serving, Loeb went up 15-40. She just missed an aggressive forehand on the first break point, and Wagner was in control of the point, at the net to put away what she expected to be a weak defensive reply. But on the run, Loeb hooked a dipping crosscourt forehand past Wagner for the break.
Loeb then stepped up her serving game, hitting two aces in the game for a 5-3 lead. Wagner held, forcing Loeb to serve it out. Meanwhile, Likeikite was up 5-1 in the second set, looking to put Miami on the board.
With Loeb serving for the match, the rallies were fierce and long, with winners or forced errors deciding them. Down 30-40, Loeb missed her first serve and Wagner called the second serve out. Loeb appealed to the chair and the call was reversed, putting the game back to deuce. On the next point, Wagner called Loeb's backhand out, a call that was vociferously protested by North Carolina coach Brian Kalbas, but the chair sided with Wagner on that one. Wagner hit a backhand long to squander a second break point, and she didn't get another. Two match points came and went, but a good first serve helped Loeb convert the third, just as Likekite was getting Miami's sole point with a 7-5, 6-2 win.
"It's the third time we've played them, and it's been tough every time," said Kalbas. "They're a really well coached and talented team, and it's tough to beat a feisty, competitive team three times in one year. I was really proud of team, the way they handled the different situations and circumstances, from rain, to warming up here, then going back there."
Kalbas said the rainy weather has made preparations for the tournament challenging.
"The first day we got here it rained, so we weren't able to practice," Kalbas said. "We got in a conditioning workout. The next day we got up at 4:30, 5 in the morning, because the indoor courts were available, so we came over and hit for an hour indoors. It's been a really difficult adjustment to get through the weather and get our team prepared, but physically, we're in good shape."
In both the men's and women's draws, the No. 7 seeds are the defending champions, so they are viewed warily by the quarterfinal opponents.
"We obviously played them in the finals last year, and they have their whole team back, so they're definitely not a 7 seed team," said Kalbas, whose team lost 4-3 in last year's final in Athens. "They're very, very good. The lineup is a lot different from last year, so a lot of matchups will be different, so it's kind of a new match. We're taking on all challenges right now. We're excited, even though it's the quarterfinals, having to play them, the defending champs, it's an opportunity we're looking forward to."
UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster said she hopes her team can play "a little freer. I think we were a little nervous coming in. This first round here is always tough. Hopefully we can get ready for North Carolina, go out there and play to win."
As for that finals rematch, Sampras agreed it was tough.
"I'm sure neither one of us wants to play each other this early, but it is what it is," Sampras said. "Unfortunately, we had some injuries, some of the matches we lost were really close, but you know, seeds, rankings, everything goes away here. It's whoever shows up, whoever's playing well, whoever's really playing with confidence. Anything can happen."