Feb. 5, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The 17th-ranked Tennessee Lady Vol tennis team (4-2) came into Sunday's contest with No. 10 Michigan (4-1) at the Goodfriend Tennis Center on a three-match winning streak, having outscored its opponents in that span, 15-1.
Sunday was a different story, but with the same result.
The Lady Vols won their fourth consecutive match, upsetting the Wolverines, 5-2.
UT faced its first adversity in a victory. The doubles point came down to the final court for the first time, and after all previous singles matches had been decided in straight sets this season, the Lady Vols played four three-set matches against Michigan.
Adversity reared its head early and often Sunday.
Szekely dropped her opening set, 6-4.
But Tennessee - despite half of its lineup playing in their first season - overcame it all.
"We're proud of our kids," co-head coach Mike Patrick said. "They did a great job competing the whole time. We're young. Michigan is young. We're learning a lot. It was great to get the win."
The Lady Vols earned the doubles point via victories from Boren and Toti (8-1), who won their ninth straight together, and Henderson and Szekely (8-6).
Toti, Boren and Szekely sealed the win with victories in singles, while Henderson picked up her fourth straight win after the match had been decided.
The suspense lingered throughout the match, but didn't make an appearance until midway through doubles.
Tennessee raced out to leads on all three courts, including commanding advantages from Boren and Toti (7-1) and Henderson and Szekely (7-0). After Boren and Toti improved to 6-0 in dual-match play with an 8-1 win over Mimi Nguyen and Michelle Sulahian, Natalie Pluskota and Caitlyn Williams saw their four-match winning streak come to an end, losing 8-6 to 24th-ranked Emina Bektas and Brooke Bolender.
At that point, Michigan's Kristen Dodge and Sarah Lee had taken four straight games from Henderson and Szekely, and would take two more after that.
With the Wolverines serving and all eyes on court three, Henderson and Szekely netted the butterflies, and claimed the doubles point for UT, the sixth time in as many matches that the Lady Vols have done so.
"It was big," Patrick said of snatching the doubles point. "What was big was that we settled down enough. We got a big lead and then we got tentative and kind of passive, just waiting for them to lose which doesn't happen at this level. The younger ones have to understand that you have to make plays. At the very end, Kata stepped up and made a play and that was what we needed to do."
With a 1-0 lead, Tennessee got off to a slow start in singles, trailing on five of six courts at one point. But as Boren's resurgence took place, UT elevated its game.
That was evident on court four, where Toti overcame a 3-0 deficit to win her first set, 6-4. Racing out to a 4-0 lead in set two, Toti locked up UT's second point and her fourth straight win, defeating Michelle Sulahian 6-4, 6-2.
Boren surmounted a steeper deficit in her opening set. Trailing 5-1, Boren won five consecutive games to take a 6-5 lead. A loss in the next game set up Tennessee's first tiebreaker of the dual-match season. The 27th-ranked player prevailed, reaching seven points in 10 attempts.
With momentum on her side, Boren continued to pour it on, defeating 46th-ranked Bolender 7-6 (3), 6-2. Boren's fourth straight win gave UT a 3-0 lead.
Michigan's Sarah Lee, who entered the day 15-5 overall and 3-0 in dual-match play, put Michigan on the board with a 6-2, 1-6, 6-1 victory over Williams.
The attention again turned to Szekely, who was facing her third ranked opponent of the dual-match season in No. 113 Mimi Nguyen. After dropping the opening set, 6-4, Szekely turned in a pair of 6-1 sets to her advantage, providing UT with the match-clinching point.
"The most important thing was to come back strong, play my own game and just to make her work for every single point," Szekely said. "I think I was more aggressive in my shots and I worked her forehand side more than in the first set."
Szekely improved to 4-0 in dual-match play, 11-2 overall, 6-1 against ranked opponents and 4-0 in three-set matches.
With Tennessee leading 4-1 and its fourth consecutive victory assured, the Lady Vols played out the final two matches. Henderson showed great resiliency, becoming the second Lady Vol on the day to overcome a 5-1 deficit and win the stanza in a 7-3 tiebreaker. The comeback, in the third set over Kristen Dodge, gave Henderson her fourth consecutive win.
Pluskota, who also won her first set in a 7-6 (4) tiebreaker, dropped her final two sets by a margin of 6-3 to 36th-ranked Emina Bektas.
Tennessee will put its winning streak to test against another elite opponent Friday, as the Lady Vols open up ITA National Indoor Team Championships play in Charlottesville, Va., against third-seeded and fifth-ranked Baylor at 3:30 p.m. ET.
#17 Tennessee 5, #10 Michigan 2
1. #36 Emina Bektas (UM) def. #24 Natalie Pluskota (UT) 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3
2. #27 Brynn Boren (UT) def. #46 Brooke Bolender (UM) 7-6 (3), 6-2
3. #59 Kata Szekely (UT) def. #113 Mimi Nguyen (UM) 4-6, 6-1, 6-1
4. Sarah Lee (UM) def. Caitlyn Williams (UT) 6-2, 1-6, 6-1
5. Sarah Toti (UT) def. Michelle Sulahian (UM) 6-4, 6-2
6. Joanna Henderson (UT) def. Kristen Dodge (UM) 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (3)
1. #24 Emina Bektas/Brooke Bolender (UM) def. Natalie Pluskota/Caitlyn Williams (UT) 8-6
2. #18 Brynn Boren/Sarah Toti (UT) def. Mimi Nguyen/Michelle Sulahian (UM) 8-1
3. Kata Szekely/Joanna Henderson (UT) def. Kristen Dodge/Sarah Lee (UM) 8-6
Order of finish: Doubles (2, 1, 3); Singles (5, 2, 4, 3, 1, 6)
Co-Head Coach Mike Patrick
(On playing at 10 a.m.)
"It's not ideal, but it's the same for both of us. We have to get used to it. Next week, we're going to play all over the board (at National Indoors). You have to get used to it going into these tournament matches where you're going to play all different times of the day."
(On Joanna Henderson and other freshmen gaining valuable experience)
"(Joanna) just fought back and finally got relaxed enough to let herself play and do what she's capable of. We have freshmen out there and they learn every time. Until they put themselves in that pressure situation, we don't know how they're going to respond. Now we kind of know. They can learn from it and get better for the next time."
(On the confidence the win brings)
"We're good enough to get these kinds of matches. There are 10 or 15 teams that are as good, as talented as or definitely more experienced than we are. We put it together, keep getting better week by week and hopefully we're ready to go when it counts."
(On Tennessee's upcoming match against No. 5 Baylor in the ITA National Indoors)
"We have to really be able to step it up and play our best tennis against Baylor. Their top three or four players are very experienced kids. That's a big challenge, but we're looking forward to it. That's how you're going to get better is by playing the best and we're getting a chance to play one of the best teams in the country, so that's exciting."
Junior Kata Szekely
(On her and Henderson's doubles match)
"We just didn't go after it. That was the main thing. As games went on, we got tighter and tighter. At the end, thankfully we won."
(On her progression)
"I think I'm playing really well. I'm working hard every week in practice. I'm just focusing on my gameplan every single match."
Sophomore Brynn Boren
(On coming back from 5-1 deficit in first set)
"(Volunteer assistant coach) Mario, our coach gave me a gameplan just to make her work and we changed a few things up. I just went after it more. I was playing very tentative in the first six games. After being down, I decided to go after it and I did."
(On her confidence level)
"My confidence is really high right now considering I've won four straight. I'm just playing well. I've been working really hard and it's been paying off."
(On success with Toti in doubles)
"We got a lot of experience in the fall. We learned from that. We know what we're capable of, we know how we're supposed to win and how we play our best. We just execute that really well."
(On what win over 10th-ranked Michigan does for team)
"It just boosts our confidence even more. We knew we were capable of this but until we actually did it, we weren't exactly sure. Now that we've done it as a team, it just boosts our confidence."