McDowell wins NCAA tennis title, Honda Award

Amanda McDowell followed up last season’s team title with the schools first tennis individual title, defeating Zuzana Zemenova of Baylor in the finals in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3. The sophomore set a school record for wins in a season with 45, eclipsing teammate Kristi Miller’s previous record of 43.

“I thought it was a really good match. I don’t think the score really reflects how quality the match was. I think we were really toe-to-toe for a little bit in the first set,” said McDowell after the match, “I played her backhand a little more today than her forehand. She had a pretty good forehand that she could use to attack me. I thought I stepped up pretty well on her serve today. At the beginning, I thought my first serve percentage was a little low but I got it together and started winning a lot of service points on my first serve. I was pretty happy with my match today.”

The Women’s tennis team found their season over after losing in the NCAA tournament on May 17th to Florida. Individually, though, it was not over as the singles and doubles tournaments began. Five of Tech’s players earned bids to the 2008 NCAA singles tournament, the most in school history. Only sophomore Amanda McDowell and Senior Kristi Miller made it past the first round.

The first round began on May 21 in Tulsa as seventh seeded McDowell was able to pull out a three-set victory over Vanderbilt’s Amanda Taylor after dropping her first set 1-6 and then winning the next two 7-6, 6-1. The other top-16 ranked player in the tournament, Miller, overtook Arizona’s Danielle Steinberg in the first round with a 6-3, 6-3 victory. The other three players that earned bid to the singles tournament were not able to advance. Sophomore Kirsten Flower dropped her match to Fresno State’s Melanie Gloria 6-3, 6-0, freshman Maya Johansson lost to Michigan’s Chisako Sugiyama 6-3, 6-4, and senior Whitney McCray lost in the third set to Marshall’s Kellie Schmitt 3-6, 6-2, 7-5.

The doubles tournament began on the following day as Miller and McCray played their last doubles match of each others collegiate career together. They dropped their match in the first round to TCU’s Macall Harkins and Anna Sydorska 6-1, 7-6 (3). The second round of singles was that same day as Miller finished with a loss to California’s Claire Ilcinkas 7-5, 0-6, 6-4. Miller had finished her career with Tech with 151 wins over the last four years. Miller now holds Tech’s career records in singles wins and winning percentage. In addition, she was tabbed to the CoSIDA Academic All-District III First Team that same day for her off-the-court accomplishments after earning her degree in History, Technology and Society with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

McDowell continued to stay alive in the tournament, with a win over South Carolina’s Gira Schofield in the third set 6-2, 4-6, 7-5. On Friday, McDowell advanced to the championship quarterfinals after her third-round victory over UCLA’s Tracy Lin 6-4, 6-2. On May 24, McDowell became the first women’s tennis player in school history to reach the semifinals of the NCAA Singles Championship. In the quarterfinals, McDowell defeated Baylor’s Lenka Broosova 6-3, 6-2 to advance in addition to surpassing the mark for most singles wins in a season at Tech of 43 wins, held previously by Kristi Miller in her first season at Tech. McDowell defeated Auburn’s Fani Chifchieva 6-3, 6-2 on May 25, which put her into the championship match for the national title against Baylor’s Zemenova the next day.

Zemenova won the NCAA Singles title as a freshman in 2005 and lost to the eventual champion in 2006 and 2007. She reached the title match with a victory over the top-seeded Arkansas’s Aurelija Miseviciute. McDowell completed her run through the championship by taking the victory over Zemenova.

“It’s part of the game-plan not to allow [Zemenova] to control the court with her forehand. I thought Amanda did a great job of neutralizing her first serves when she directed the balls to her backhand strong, which gave her the upper hand in the point,” said head coach Brian Shelton.

McDowell finished her sophomore year with a 45-8 singles record and earned 84 singles victories in her first two years.

“It’s one of the most rewarding moments of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so happy and exhausted at the same time,” McDowell said.

On June 5th, both Miller and McDowell earned spots on the six-person USTA Summer Collegiate Team, an elite training program for the top American collegiate tennis players. On June 10th, McDowell has been chosen the nation’s top collegiate female tennis player for 2008 thereby earning her the Honda Sports Award, given annually to the top women athletes in 12 NCAA-sanctioned sports, with an automatic nomination for the Collegiate Women Athlete of the Year. McDowell joins Miller as the only two Tech players in history to win the Honda award.