March 4, 2012
KNOXVILLE - The Tennessee Lady Vol tennis team used a third-set tiebreaker victory from 37th-ranked Kata Szekely and a straight-set clincher from Caitlyn Williams to overcome a 3-2 deficit and defeat South Carolina, 4-3, Sunday at the Goodfriend Tennis Center.
It marked the fourth time in as many UT wins that Williams has provided the clinching point, but was the first in which it came down to her court.
"Any time you have a freshman be able to clinch a match it definitely shows the maturity and the toughness they have," co-head coach Sonia Hahn-Patrick said. "This was a great team effort and I am very proud of them."
Tennessee (10-4, 1-1 SEC) jumped out to a 2-0 lead via the doubles point and a dominating 6-1, 6-1 victory from 35th-ranked Brynn Boren before South Carolina (7-3, 0-2 SEC) stormed back by using experience to its advantage on the bottom three courts in rapid succession, giving the Gamecocks their lone advantage Sunday.
At that point, Szekely and South Carolina's 64th-ranked Jaklin Alawi had traded 6-2 sets and were in the deciding set, with Szekely leading 5-2, while Williams led her second stanza by a 4-1 margin after taking a tight first set, 6-4.
With each team vying for its first SEC win, South Carolina wouldn't go without a fight. "I got very nervous at 5-2 and knew it was all up to me," Szekely said. "After that, I wanted to go after my serves at five-all. I knew I could not panic and that was key."
Alawi won three consecutive games to tie up court two, 5-5, while Dominika Kanakova won three of the next four games against Williams to cut her lead to 5-4.
Szekely bounced back to go ahead 6-5, but Alawi held serve to force the tiebreaker.
Using her momentum, Alawi went up 4-1 in the tiebreaker and appeared to be in control.
But using poise and patience, Szekely rallied to snatch the next five points. Alawi responded with a point of her own, before Szekely closed it out with the final two points, including the clincher that was right inside the line.
"I was just focusing on every single point to be able to come back," Szekely said. "I wanted to win every point for the team. I knew if I lost, then it was over. I wanted to win them all point-by-point."
Serving with the match tied at three, Williams overcame Kanakova's game-point opportunity and clinched a 6-4, 6-4 win individually - and more importantly, UT's 10th of the season and first in conference play.
"I was a little bit nervous of course," Williams said. "Anyone in my position would be. I just had faith that Kata was going to win her match and that hopefully, it was going to come down to my match, it did and I was able to close it out for the team."
It marked the second time this season UT won on the final court, also using Joanna Henderson's three-set thriller to defeat Northwestern, 4-3. It was the first time, however, that the Lady Vols came from behind to win.
Tennessee got on the board early, winning the doubles point.
Much the opposite from Friday's match when Florida won on all three doubles courts, Tennessee swept the doubles point on each court for the third time this season.
"Now that you are playing in conference every match is tough," Hahn-Patrick said. "You have to take the doubles point. The doubles point is so important for many reasons obviously because you clinch the point and because it builds momentum and confidence for the players going into singles. For us to get the doubles won us the match."
In the effort, two Lady Vols moved up to ninth on different lists. Senior Natalie Pluskota is now tied with Agnes Wiski for ninth all-time in career doubles wins with 95, while freshman Sarah Toti is tied for ninth with Felicia Abrams in wins by a UT freshman with 24.
Pluskota, who returned from injury to the doubles lineup Friday, teamed with Williams for UT's first doubles victory of the day. The ninth-ranked duo nationally defeated Dominika Kanakova and Anya Morgina, 8-2, for their sixth win by at least four points.
Less than two minutes later, Henderson and Szekely reeled in the doubles point, marking the 13th time in 14 matches that the Lady Vols have done so.
Henderson and Szekely used an 8-3 advantage, winning the last four games over Josefin Andersson and Katerina Popova to move to 9-2 on the season and provide their fourth doubles-point clincher in 2012.
Boren and Toti, who led 7-3 at the time, appeared to be in position to start a new winning streak. Josefin Andersson and Katerina Popova closed the gap to 7-5, before Boren and Toti won their SEC-best 13th contest of the season, 8-5.
With a win over No. 34 Morgina, Boren helped give the Lady Vols a 2-0 lead, before USC rallied to take a 3-2 lead and set up the dramatic finish.
"After losing to Florida we were 0-1 in the SEC," Szekely said. "Obviously, we needed this win to build a little confidence going into next week."
Tennessee begins a four-match road swing, its longest of the season, next weekend. Friday, the Lady Vols will take on No. 18 Ole Miss at 4 p.m., and Sunday UT will face Mississippi State at 2 p.m.
#5 Tennessee 4, #22 South Carolina 3
1. #35 Brynn Boren (UT) def. #34 Anya Morgina (USC) 6-1, 6-1
2. #37 Kata Szekely (UT) def. #64 Jaklin Alawi (USC) 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (5)
3. Caitlyn Williams (UT) def. Dominika Kanakova (USC) 6-4, 6-4
4. Katerina Popova (USC) def. Sarah Toti (UT) 6-3, 6-4
5. Adriana Pereira (USC) def. Joanna Henderson (UT) 6-2, 6-3
6. Josefin Andersson (USC) def. Jesse Grace (UT) 6-1, 7-5
1. #9 Natalie Pluskota/Caitlyn Williams def. Dominika Kanakova/Anya Morgina (USC) 8-2
2. #10 Brynn Boren/Sarah Toti (UT) def. Jaklin Alawi/Adriana Pereira (USC) 8-5
3. Joanna Henderson/Kata Szekely (UT) def. Josefin Andersson/Katerina Popova (USC) 8-3
Order of finish: Doubles (1, 3, 2); Singles (1, 6, 5, 4, 2, 3)
Records: Tennessee (10-4, 1-1 SEC), South Carolina (7-3, 0-2 SEC)
CO-HEAD COACH Sonia Hahn-Patrick
(On the play of Tennessee's freshmen)
"It is going in peaks and valleys right now. Caitlyn has had a wealth of matches prior to coming to school so for her situation she embraced it. For the others, they just have not had the exposure and experience Caitlyn has had. They are doing better and are improving a ton. It is just a matter of believing in themselves and having the confidence (to win)."
(On the series with South Carolina)
"We just have a strong rivalry with USC. They are a very tough team. They do not give up and they do not give in. You have to work and break them down and they have always had good players."
FRESHMAN Caitlyn Williams
(On whether or not she was paying attention to Szekely's match)
"I did for a little bit, I was trying to really focus on my match and the other girls started playing better and I just wanted to make sure I had the win so even if Kata's match got closer, then I was still going to have the win."
(On having a teammate like Natalie Pluskota)
"That was awesome (to have Natalie cheering). She is really loud and I love having her on my team. The other girl told me to give Natalie some credit for my win because it was `all her.'"