Season Ends In Second Round of NCAA Tournament

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Elizabeth Epstein. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

No. 3 Duke Tops No. 30 Yale 4-0

DURHAM, N.C. – A day after registering the first NCAA Tournament win in team history, the No. 30 Yale women's tennis team saw its season come to an end with a 4-0 loss to No. 3 Duke in the tournament's second round Sunday at Ambler Stadium. After the Blue Devils took a closely contested doubles point, they won at Nos. 4 through 6 in singles to clinch the win.

Duke (24-4), playing in its 23rd NCAA Tournament and just two years removed from winning a national championship, fielded a lineup where every singles player and every doubles team was nationally ranked. The Blue Devils were coming off a 4-0 win over Richmond in the first round, while Yale had beaten No. 43 William & Mary 4-2.

The sun was out on Sunday, and the clouds and thunderstorms that had dominated Yale's time in North Carolina finally stayed away. The only sign of them was the fact that Ambler Stadium's electronic scoreboard, which may have been struck by lightning, was not working.

Senior Lindsay Clark, teaming with freshman Annie Sullivan at No. 1 doubles, got the match underway with a serve followed by a dramatic slam for Yale's first point. But ultimately Duke's No. 1 team of Ellah Nze and Rachel Kahan, ranked No. 52 in the country, came away with an 8-0 victory.

The other two doubles matches were not quite as straightforward for the Blue Devils, and the doubles point was not decided for another 20 minutes after the No. 1 match ended. Right after the No. 1s ended, Duke held at No. 2 to go up 4-3 on the Yale team of junior Vicky Brook and sophomore Elizabeth Epstein.

The Blue Devils also had a 5-2 edge at No. 3, but the freshmen team of Blair Seideman and Kim Szokol soon got the break they needed and closed within 5-4.

By then Duke had claimed a 7-4 lead at No. 2, though, and Brook served with the doubles point on the line. The Blue Devils could not put the pesky Bulldogs away, as a 40-30 Duke lead was erased by a nice drop shot from Brook. Yale fended off two more match points before the Blue Devils finally got the point they needed for the 8-4 win and the doubles point. Seideman and Szokol's match was left unfinished with the score 6-4 Duke.

"I definitely thought that in both the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles matches we had chances," said Yale head coach Danielle McNamara. "Had we played No. 3 out, we might have won that one."

Hanging tough with the No. 90 doubles team in the country was a nice way for Seideman and Szokol to wrap up their season as doubles partners. They wound up 10-1 as a team.

"They had a really good season together, especially considering how inexperienced they were," McNamara said. "They really improved a lot in doubles."

Even with Sunday's loss, the Yale doubles teams finished the season winning the doubles point in 10 of the final 12 matches. Duke had been 19-8 in doubles entering Sunday, so when the Bulldogs played the Blue Devils tough in doubles it provided some spark heading into singles play.

"That was encouraging," McNamara said of the doubles teams' performance. "But it wasn't incredibly surprising, because we had played well in doubles all season, including matches against some very tough teams."

Once singles play got underway the Blue Devils took control of the match with their depth. At Nos. 4, 5 and 6 Duke dropped only nine games combined while powering to three straight-set wins that ended the match 4-0.

That overshadowed a potential upset that was brewing at No. 1, where Epstein won the first set against No. 39 Nadine Fahoum 6-4. Fahoum, an NCAA singles selection (along with Duke's No. 3 singles player Reka Zsilinszka), was an All-ACC pick this past season. Epstein, playing No. 1 for just the third time this season, was up 2-1 on her in the second set when the match ended.

"Elizabeth did a great job," said McNamara. "Had we played that out, she might have won. I felt badly for her; I wish we could have kept the match going a little longer. That would have been such a great win for her and our team."

After dropping the first set Brook was up 3-2 in the second set at No. 2. At No. 3 Seideman was playing the highest ranked of all Duke's players in Zsilinszka, who is No. 20 in the country. After dropping the first set Seideman was down 3-0 in the second set when the match ended.

"We had some small windows of opportunity in all these matches," McNamara said. "Against a team at this level you can't afford not to capitalize on those. They don't get much better than Duke."

Duke moves on to face Georgia in the round of 16. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs turn their attention to saying goodbye to the team's three seniors, who graduate next Monday: Clark, Silia DeFilippis and captain Stevi Petrelli.

"I'm so thankful for everything they have done, and their commitment," said McNamara. "I know they'll be successful at whatever they do, and they'll stay connected to the program. I hope they can look back on these four years with some great memories."

Sunday's loss provides a bittersweet end to an otherwise memorable season for Yale (22-5, 6-1 Ivy League). In addition to earning an NCAA Tournament berth for the second time and winning an NCAA Tournament match for the first time, the Bulldogs won their sixth Ivy League title and their third straight ECAC Indoor Championship, and achieved the highest ITA ranking in program history (No. 23) (in 1978 Yale was ranked No. 18 in the Women's Large-College Tennis Coaches' Poll).

With five of the six singles players and five of the six doubles players from Sunday's match returning, the Bulldogs have reason for optimism heading into next season.

"It was a great season, and we have a lot to be proud of," said McNamara. "We just have to build on all the things we did accomplish while also continuing to be motivated to improve."

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity

 

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Singles competition
1. #39 Nadine Fahoum (DU) vs. Elizabeth Epstein (YALE) 4-6, 1-2, unfinished
2. #106 Ellah Nze (DU) vs. Vicky Brook (YALE) 6-2, 2-3, unfinished
3. #20 Reka Zsilinszka (DU) vs. Blair Seideman (YALE) 6-2, 3-0, unfinished
4. #72 Elizabeth Plotkin (DU) def. Steph Kent (YALE) 6-0, 6-1
5. #89 Rachel Kahan (DU) def. Annie Sullivan (YALE) 6-2, 6-3
6. #83 Mary Clayton (DU) def. Stevi Petrelli (YALE) 6-1, 6-2

Doubles competition
1. #52 Ellah Nze/Rachel Kahan (DU) def. Annie Sullivan/Lindsay Clark (YALE) 8-0
2. #55 Nadine Fahoum/Hanna Mar (DU) def. Elizabeth Epstein/Vicky Brook (YALE) 8-4
3. #90 Mary Clayton/Monica Gorny (DU) vs. Kim Szokol/Blair Seideman (YALE) 6-4, unfinished

Match Notes
Yale 22-5; National ranking #30
Duke 24-4; National ranking #3
Order of finish: Doubles (1,2); Singles (4,5,6)