Despite making a surprise run to win the ACC title, the women’s tennis team was unable to advance past the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Tech hosted the Atlanta Regional and defeated Austin Peay 4-0 on Friday, May 14, but lost 4-0 to Mississippi the following day.
It marked the first time since 2004 that the Jackets did not reach the NCAA Round of 16.
After Mississippi won in the regional’s opening match, Tech took to the court to face Austin Peay in an afternoon contest. It marked the first-ever meeting between the teams, as well as the first time that senior Amanda McDowell took the court since Feb. 28.
“It felt so good to be out there in one of the last home matches of the year,” McDowell said.
McDowell had been sidelined with a mysterious back injury that she initially suffered a year earlier in the 2009 Atlanta Regional. She played through what she described as “manageable” pain before shutting down in early March after aggravating the injury.
“They still don’t really have a clear answer [about the nature of the injury]…That was the frustrating part; when you’re out for this long, you want a definite answer and a clear treatment path, and I didn’t really have that with this injury,” McDowell said.
Still, the treatments worked well enough to get her on the court, and McDowell teamed with sophomore Lynn Blau to take on Austin Peay’s Carolin Weikard and Yuki Nakamura.
Freshman Elizabeth Kilborn and sophomore Viet Ha Ngo won 8-3 over Demi Georgiakopoulos and Michelle Liew on court three to give Tech the lead, and McDowell and Blau clinched the point with an 8-3 victory.
In the other match, the No. 23 tandem of sophomore Irina Falconi and junior Sasha Krupina were able to break serve repeatedly against Mariana Pagan and Vanja Tomic, and they led 7-2 when Tech secured the point.
“We struggled this year in doubles a lot, so hopefully this will give us a spark and firm up our doubles [play]…A lot of girls are stepping up in singles and have raised their games, so if we can get that doubles point consistently, we can definitely make a run,” McDowell said.
Tech faced an interesting twist in singles play, as Austin Peay’s top two players in the singles lineup, Tomic and Weikard, both played left-handed. Falconi and Ngo each took the first set but faced stiff competition from the lefties throughout.
“I think [facing left-handers] is difficult, especially when you’re on a team that has no lefties,” said Head Coach Bryan Shelton.
Krupina won the first set over Pagan, but like Falconi she trailed early in the second. Even with Austin Peay putting up a fight against Tech’s top three players, the Jackets cruised to victory thanks to stellar play from the bottom half of the lineup.
Leading the way was Kilborn, who dispatched Georgiakopoulos without losing a game in a 6-0, 6-0 victory.
“She’s been terrific…She knows she’s developed a lot of her game, and she feels comfortable in all aspects of the game right now,” Shelton said.
Blau appeared to have a chance to blank Liew but ultimately won 6-0, 6-2. With Tech needing one more match to clinch, sophomore Hillary Davis took care of Nakamura 6-3, 6-1, and the Jackets secured the 4-0 victory.
Tech’s win set up a matchup against Mississippi for the right to advance to the Round of 16. It was a familiar position for both teams, as in 2009 the Jackets had hosted the Rebels in the Atlanta Regional and won 4-1 to advance. This year, though, Mississippi would ultimately prevail.
Doubles play saw close matches on all three courts. The Rebels’ No. 11 pair of Kristi Boxx and Karen Nijssen took down No. 23 Falconi and Krupina 8-5. Mississippi clinched on court three, where Abby Guthrie and Laura van de Stroet edged Kilborn and Ngo on a tiebreaker, winning 9-8 (7-5). McDowell and Blau did not finish their match against Connor Vogel and Gabby Rangel, which ended with the Rebels up 7-6.
In singles play, a trio of straight-set victories gave Mississippi the match. Krupina was unable to get anything going against Vogel and was swept 6-0, 6-0. Davis made a late push against Rangel but lost 6-0, 6-4 to put the Rebels within one point of victory.
They got that point on court two, as Nijssen took down Ngo 6-2, 6-2 to complete the sweep for Mississippi.
Tech is represented in the individual bracket by Falconi, the top overall seed. Falconi defeated Vanderbilt’s Jackie Wu 6-4, 6-1 on Wednesday, May 26 and faced Northwestern’s Samantha Murray on Thursday.