Season Ends in First Round
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A nail-biting first round NCAA Tournament match for the No. 35 Yale women's tennis team came down to a three-set singles battle for the final point on Saturday afternoon vs. No. 23 Georgia Tech at the University of Florida's Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex. Ultimately, the Yellow Jackets prevailed, beating the Bulldogs 4-3 to end Yale's season. Yale's points came from a win in doubles along with singles wins from the team's two seniors, Elizabeth Epstein and Sarah Guzick.
Yale (17-4, 6-1 Ivy League) earned a spot in the tournament as the Ivy League's automatic qualifier after sharing the league title with No. 55 Columbia. While Georgia Tech was the higher seed in the tournament and had made two straight appearances in the NCAA's Sweet 16, the Bulldogs had plenty of reasons to believe they could win Saturday. A narrow 4-3 loss to Virginia (currently ranked No. 14 in the country) earlier in the year showed the Bulldogs' capacity to compete with top-ranked teams. They also had won eight of their last nine matches.
Yale earned a closely-contested doubles point. At No. 1 doubles, Georgia Tech's Kendal Woodard started things off with an ace that set the tone for that match. Woodard and Megan Kurey, ranked No. 60 in the country as a team, were first off the court with an 8-2 win over Epstein and sophomore Hanna Yu.
But right after losing at No. 1, the Bulldogs broke Georgia Tech's serve at both No. 3 (going up 5-2) and No. 2 (an 8-3 win for freshman Madeleine Hamilton and sophomore Amber Li). Hamilton and Li improved to 9-3 at No. 2 as a team.
The No. 3 doubles match thus decided the point, and freshman Courtney Amos and junior Annie Sullivan came through for the Bulldogs. After trailing 2-1, they ran off seven straight points for the win. Amos held serve to finish off the 8-2 victory that put Yale up 1-0.
That was Yale's 15th doubles point win in 21 matches this spring.
"We played really well at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles today," said Yale head coach Danielle McNamara, who has led the Bulldogs to four NCAA appearances. "We played confidently and executed the basics really well. Courtney and Annie's ability to finish off their match gave us the momentum we needed heading into singles."
Georgia Tech (15-9, 7-4 ACC) only had six players available Saturday, and that became a factor when the Yellow Jackets' Jasmine Minor was unable to play in singles after her match at No. 2 doubles. With no-one to replace her in the lineup, Georgia Tech had to default, giving the Bulldogs a point and a 2-0 lead.
That denied Guzick the chance to play what turned out to be her final career match; McNamara had planned to give her a shot at No. 6. Guzick had gone 2-2 in singles this spring.
The Bulldogs thus took a 2-0 lead, but it took Georgia Tech just over an hour to even things up. The Yellow Jackets won the first set in three matches to set the tone quickly in singles.
"I give Georgia Tech a lot of credit," said McNamara. "I thought a lot of their players came out in singles and really dictated play. They were aggressive. In some ways having to default at No. 6 may have fired them up and given them a sense of urgency."
Straight-set wins for Georgia Tech at No. 4 (Megan Kurey over Yu) and No. 5 (Muriel Wacker over Li) briefly made the score 2-2. That was just the second loss in the last nine matches for Yu.
Epstein, though, helped Yale re-take the lead shortly after the Yellow Jackets tied the match. Ranked No. 75 in the country, she finished off a 6-2, 6-1 win over No. 98 Elizabeth Kilborn at No. 1 that made it 3-2 Yale.
"Elizabeth just looked really focused today," said McNamara. "You can tell when a player is not going to say die on a given day. When she got control of that match, there was no way she was letting her opponent back in."
The only matches left on the court at that point were No. 2 (where Hamilton trailed Woodard 1-0 and was down 4-3 in the second set) and No. 3 (where Sullivan was tied 1-1 with Natasha Prokhnevska, and was down 1-0 in the third set).
The matchup at No. 3 was a tough one for Hamilton, the Ivy League's Rookie of the Year, as she was facing the powerful serving of Georgia Tech's own freshman sensation, the six-foot-one Woodard. Hamilton was able to break serve to tie things at 4-4, finishing off a rally with a well-placed lob.
"I was glad to see Madeleine start to battle back," McNamara said. "I knew her opponent had a great serve. It was just a matter of trying to hold, get it to a tiebreaker, and then hope for the best."
But with the score 5-5, Woodard broke Hamilton's serve to go up 6-5. Hamilton then fended off one match point, but Woodard eventually sealed the 6-3, 7-5 win with an ace that tied the team score 3-3.
At that point the match at No. 3 was tied 2-2, with Prokhnevska starting to serve. She held to go up 3-2, but Sullivan answered by holding serve to tie the match once again. Sullivan's winner was a lob with the score 40-30; Prokhnevska had rallied from being down 40-0.
Sullivan then nearly rallied from being down 40-0 herself, but Prokhnevska eventually held serve again to go up 4-3.
The day had been mostly overcast, but as the decisive match neared its completion the sun was out in full force on a day where the temperature at the start of singles was 94 degrees and the courts were swarmed by love bugs. Serving down 4-3, Sullivan fell behind 30-0, then rallied to tie it at 30 before Prokhnevska claimed the final two points for a crucial break.
That left Prokhnevska, another sensational freshman for the Yellow Jackets, serving for the match. She hit the ball out twice en route to falling behind 30-15, but tied things with an ace.
After Sullivan hit one out to fall behind 40-30, she fended off one match point by executing a pretty cross-court winner after making a series of backhand shots to keep the rally alive.
Prokhnevska then went back ahead with a perfectly executed drop shot, and took the match 3-6, 6-0, 6-3 with a backhand winner just past Sullivan's reach.
Sullivan had been 19-0 in dual matches this spring, and had a streak of 25 straight wins in dual matches dating back to her last loss (Apr. 7, 2012).
"Despite this one loss, Annie really did have a breakthrough year," said McNamara. "She was just a rock for us, but one person can't carry the team forever. She did something remarkable this year, and I'm very excited for next year with her."
This snaps a streak of two straight years of advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for Yale. Georgia Tech will face No. 1 Florida, which beat Marist 4-0 Saturday afternoon, on Sunday.
The loss also ends the Yale careers of Epstein, Yale's captain, and Guzick.
"Elizabeth has always been a clutch player, a great competitor who always finds a way to get herself in a match," said McNamara. "There's really something to be said for that, for the team -- she's always been that player for us. And I have so much respect for Sarah. She is such a hard worker, and a great vocal leader who always speaks the truth. She and 'E' have done so much for this program."
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity
2013 NCAA WOMEN'S TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS
#23 Georgia Tech vs. #35 Yale
May 11, 2013 at Gainesville, Fla.
(Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex)
Final Score: Georgia Tech 4, Yale 3
Doubles (Order of finish: 1, 2, 3*)
- Megan Kurey/Kendal Woodard (60), GT def. Elizabeth Epstein/Hanna Yu, YU, 8-2
- Madeleine Hamilton/Amber Li, YU def. Jasmine Minor/Natasha Prokhnevska, GT, 8-3
- Courtney Amos/Annie Sullivan, YU def. Elizabeth Kilborn/Muriel Wacker, GT, 8-2
Singles (Order of finish: 6, 4, 5, 1, 2, 3*)
- Elizabeth Epstein (75), YU def. Elizabeth Kilborn (98), GT, 6-2, 6-1
- Kendal Woodard (88), GT def. Madeleine Hamilton, YU, 6-3, 7-5
- Natasha Prokhnevska, GT def. Annie Sullivan, YU, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3
- Megan Kurey, GT def. Hanna Yu, YU, 6-1, 6-2
- Muriel Wacker, GT def. Amber Li, YU, 6-2, 6-2
- Sarah Guzick, YU def. Jasmine Minor, GT, Minor withdrew
Updated Records: Georgia Tech - 15-9; Yale - 17-4
NCAA Seeding: Georgia Tech - 17-32; Yale - 33-48
ITA National Ranking: Georgia Tech - 23; Yale – 35