Crystal Cleveland had the deciding match for Tennessee today
Feb. 23, 2003
The doubles point ended up being the difference in the match between the 11th-ranked University of Tennessee Lady Volunteer tennis team and No. 19 Notre Dame on Sunday, Feb. 23, at the Goodfriend Tennis Center in Knoxville. UT prevailed with a 4-3 victory to move to 8-2 this year, while the Irish fell to .500 at 4-4. The Lady Vols now lead the series with Notre Dame 10-4. The win also marked the Orange and White's first over a top 25 team for the 2003 campaign.
The Big Orange took a 1-0 lead after claiming a highly competitive doubles point. Senior Crystal Cleveland and sophomore Ashley Robards concluded their match first at No. 3 with an 8-6 victory over sophomore Sarah Jane Connelly and freshman Jennifer Smith. The Irish duo of senior Katie Cunha and rookie Kristina Stastny responded by upsetting UT's 22nd-rated combo of senior Vilmarie Castellvi and freshman Melissa Schaub at the top spot, 8-6.
As all eyes turned to the match on court two between UT junior Tammy Encina and sophomore Majen Immink, and Notre Dame freshman Lauren Connelly and junior Alicia Salas, the Orange and White held a 6-5 advantage, but the contest was still on serve. In the ensuing game, Encina and Immink managed a break, giving Encina a chance to serve out the match. With a quick 40-15 lead in the 13th game, it appeared that UT would run away with the win, but the Irish pushed the game to deuce. After Immink recorded a forehand winner at the net, Encina ripped a service ace in the far corner to give the Lady Vols the point.
Castellvi, the nation's No. 4-ranked player, extended the Tennessee lead to 2-0 after she dispatched of No. 124 Salas at the top slot, 6-1, 6-1. The Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, native is now 21-3 versus ranked competition and 24-4 overall. She is also 9-1 at No. 1 singles and 13-1 this spring.
Notre Dame got on the board when junior Caylan Leslie pulled a 6-1, 6-3 triumph over Encina at two singles. Encina dropped to 14-9 and 6-4 at the second singles position with the loss.
The Lady Vols struck back with a win No. 3 singles thanks to Schaub, who notched her seventh victory in a row. The Lexington, Ohio, native defeated Cunha in straight sets, 7-5, 6-1, to improve to 15-8 and 9-1 at three singles.
UND lived up to its nickname and fought back once again, posting a win at No. 4 singles. Stastny took out freshman Sabita Maharaj, who was playing only her second dual singles match, by a count of 6-4, 6-3.
The Big Orange claimed the match when Cleveland posted her seventh-straight victory at five singles over Lauren Connelly, 6-2, 6-3. Cleveland's record now stands at 17-7 for the season and 8-2 in dual matches. It was the second time this year that the Delray Beach, Fla., native clinched a match for UT. Her first clincher came at Illinois on Feb. 2.
Cleveland's victory was also the 109th of her career and moved her ahead of Manisha Malhotra for fourth place on the school's all-time wins list. She needs six more conquests to tie Wendy Anderson for the third spot.
The remaining match at the No. 6 slot between Robards and Sarah Jane Connelly was decided in a third set super tiebreaker. Connelly took the first frame, 6-2, while Robards claimed the second, 6-3. In the breaker, Connelly prevailed by a 12-10 score.
"It was a good team effort today," said UT Co-Head Coach Mike Patrick. "We needed a win over a top 25 team and got it. I was encouraged by Sabita's play, but she still hasn't reach her potential yet. We also need Tammy to be more consistent for us, especially when SEC play begins next week. We have to be ready for the brutal conference schedule that's ahead."
Tennessee opens SEC competition next week when No. 25 Kentucky and No. 10 Vanderbilt visit Rocky Top. UT will host the Wildcats at 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 28, and then welcome the Commodores to town on Sunday, March 2, for a 1 p.m. contest. Both matches will be played at UT Varsity Courts and Goodfriend Tennis Center.