Women’s Tennis tops No. 7 Duke, honors McDowell

The No. 20 women’s tennis team went into its final homestand against two top-10 foes in No. 7 Duke and No. 2 North Carolina, looking to continue their hot streak with a pair of key victories.

After upsetting the defending national champion Blue Devils on Saturday, April 10, the Jackets stumbled in their Sunday battle against UNC, which ended in a 5-2 loss.

Before Sunday’s contest, Tech held a ceremony to commemorate the end of lone senior Amanda McDowell’s final season with the Jackets. McDowell has not played since Feb. 13 due to injuries, but when active she has been a fixture at the top of Tech’s lineup throughout her career.

An Atlanta native, McDowell enrolled at Tech in 2006 and quickly became a force for the Jackets. She went 39-10 in singles play as a freshman in the 2006-07 campaign, including a 25-4 record in the dual match season.

A year later, as a sophomore, McDowell rose to super stardom. In arguably the most notable run of her career, McDowell qualified for the 64-person NCAA Singles Championship and notched six straight victories, winning the last four in straight sets—including her triumph in the finals over Baylor’s Zuzana Zemanova.

Her victory made her Tech’s first-ever individual national champion in women’s tennis, and it marked the highest point of a season that saw McDowell go 45-8 overall.

With fellow phenom Irina Falconi on campus during McDowell’s junior year, the duo teamed up to win the title at the 2008 ITA All-American Doubles Championships. McDowell and Falconi defeated three doubles pairs ranked in the top 10 on their way to the title.

McDowell remained a force in Tech’s lineup throughout her junior year, maintaining a high spot in the national rankings. This year, though, she has been forced out of the lineup by injuries for part of the season. Unfortunately McDowell—who has been out since Feb. 13—remained sidelined for the weekend set, but the Jackets were able to extend their win streak to four in the Saturday battle against Duke.

All three doubles matches were well-contested. In a battle of ranked doubles pairs, the No. 30 tandem of sophomore Irina Falconi and junior Sasha Krupina held off No. 42 Ellah Nze and Amanda Granson 8-6 in the first flight match.

By the end of that match, though, Duke had already clinched the doubles point. Sophomores Lynn Blau and Hillary Davis were downed 8-3 by Mary Clayton and Monica Gorny, and freshman Elizabeth Kilborn and Christina Ngo played close but fell to the No. 58 pair of Elizabeth Plotkin and Reka Zslinszka.

The Jackets rebounded in singles play, winning a pair of matches in straight sets. Kilborn had little trouble in picking up a victory over Gorny, winning 6-1, 6-4 on court five to even the match. Krupina then completed a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Granson, and Tech pulled ahead.

Duke’s win on court six evened the match. Jessica Stiles held off Davis for a 6-4, 6-4 victory that tied it up at two matches apiece.

In the first flight battle, it appeared that No. 40 Nze had a chance to pull off the upset against No. 1 Falconi. When Nze took the first set, it marked the first time in nearly two months that Falconi had lost a set. The Tech sophomore rebounded, though, easily taking the final two sets for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory that put Tech ahead 3-2.

Duke took the court two match in another three-set battle. Ngo won the first set against No. 39 Zslinszka but fell in the second and third sets as Zslinszka took the match 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

With the match coming down to the wire, all eyes turned to the court four match between Blau and Clayton. In what was easily the closest contest of the day, the second and third sets both required a seventh game.

Clayton appeared to be on the verge of victory, earning a three-game advantage over Blau in the third set. Still, the Tech sophomore rallied from the deficit and held on in a tiebreaker to pull out a clutch victory and secure the match, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 (8-6). It marked Tech’s fourth straight win in conference play after an 0-3 start, and the Jackets handed Duke their third ACC loss.

“It was a team effort today against the reigning national champions. I thought we showed true character and grit to lose the doubles point but come back and win the match,” said Head Coach Bryan Shelton, courtesy of ramblinwreck.com.

The Jackets had little time to celebrate, though, as a day later they faced another challenge against No. 2 UNC.

After the pregame ceremony, the match began with doubles play. Court one was a close match to the end, but Krupina and Falconi pulled out an 8-7 victory over UNC seniors Sanaz Marand and Katrina Tsang after winning a tiebreaker 7-5.

Once again, though, by then the doubles point had been clinched. Shinann Featherston and Jocelyn Ffriend rolled to an 8-3 third flight victory over Ngo and Kilborn, and Jelena Durisic and Sophie Grabinski took down Blau and Davis 8-5 to give the Tar Heels the early lead.

The Jackets had little luck in singles play, as the first three matches to finish all ended in the Tar Heels’ favor and clinched the match for visiting UNC.

Featherston’s match against Davis on court six was the first to finish, as Featherston gave UNC a 2-0 lead with a 6-2, 6-2 victory. Krupina played close in the second set of her match with Jelena Durisic but ultimately fell 6-1, 6-4.

Ngo had a tough matchup against No. 51 Tsang on court two, and Tsang’s 6-1, 6-3 victory clinched the match for UNC.

Even with the outcome set, the Jackets went on to take two of the final three matches.

Blau picked up a straight-set victory on court four. Despite a late push from opponent Gina Suarez-Malaguti, Blau held on for a 6-3, 7-5 victory to put Tech on the board.

Falconi, who had gotten off to a quick start against No. 32 Marand, faced a stiff challenge late as Marand mounted a comeback. After Falconi took the first set 6-1, Marand edged out a victory in the second set, 7-5. The match went to a superset tiebreaker that remained close for some time, but Falconi finally managed to put away her opponent and win the match 6-1, 7-5, 12-10.

Grabinski’s three-set victory over Kilborn, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, provided the final margin of the match. The Tar Heels picked up the 5-2 victory, staying undefeated in conference play while improving to 21-3 overall.

Tech’s four-match win streak in ACC play ended, and the Jackets moved to 13-7 overall and 4-4 in ACC play despite their strong effort against the Tar Heels.