March 6, 2005


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Five hours and 17 minutes after it started, the 21st-ranked University of Tennessee Lady Vol tennis squad fell in a tight contest to No. 36 Alabama, 4-3. For the second straight year, the match came down to a tiebreaker in the third set of the final singles match to be completed.

Tennessee's highlight of the day came when junior Sabita Maharaj (Gainesville, Fla. / Buchholz H.S.), ranked 70th nationally, topped the sixth-ranked player, Robin Stephenson of Alabama, in dramatic fashion, 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, in the No. 1 match. She trailed 5-3 in the deciding set before recording wins in the final four games. After being blanked in the first set, she took control of the second, taking a 5-2 advantage on the way to the set victory.

Setting the stage for the dramatic singles play were the doubles matches, which did not end until almost two hours had passed. The first match completed saw Alabama's Ashley Bentley and Melissa Minor top UT's duo of freshman Bryce Marable (Darien, Ill. / Hinsdale South H.S.) and sophomore Blakeley Griffith (Middleburg, Va. / Loudoun Coutny H.S.) by an 8-2 count on the No. 2 court.

The No. 3 match saw Tennessee's pair of senior Ashley Robards (Henderson, Ky. / Henderson County H.S.) and freshman Ghizela Schutte (Ninapark, South Africa / Damelin College) defeat UA's Mari Muller and Andrea Brenes by an 8-6 score.

The No. 1 match was an epic. The Lady Vol pair of juniors Sabita Maharaj (Gainesville, Fla. / Buchholz H.S.) and Melissa Schaub (Lexington, Ohio / Lexington H.S.) took 7-6 and 8-7 advantages, but Alabama's pair of Robin Stephenson and Natalie McElveen fought back to defeat the Lady Vol pair, 9-8 (9-7), to secure the doubles point for Alabama. The match took 1:58 to complete.



Singles action was just as competitive. Alabama took a 2-0 advantage when Bentley defeated Griffith in straight sets, 6-1, 7-5. Griffith fought back from a 5-2 deficit in the second set to tie it at 5-all before Bentley secured the final two games for the Crimson Tide victory.

Tennessee then tied the score, 2-2, with a pair of victories. At No. 3, Marable topped Minor in a tight 6-4, 6-3 affair. Then on the No. 4 court, sophomore Victoria Jones (Tyne & Wear, U.K. / South Tyneside College) defeated Brenes, 6-2, 7-5. Jones had a commanding 5-2 advantage in the second set before holding on for the win.

It stayed that way for a while as the final three matches all went three sets.

Maharaj pulled UT ahead, 3-2, with her dramatic victory. Alabama then tied it up when Muller defeated Robards, 5-7, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4. Robards fought from 5-3 down in the second set to force the tiebreaker. Then the match was decided when McElveen topped Schaub, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5). Schaub was down 5-2 in the second set before rallying for the next five games. In the third set, she was down 3-0 and 4-2 before taking a 6-5 advantage.

The Lady Vols next play No. 50 Arkansas on the road at 5 p.m. CST on Friday.

#36 Alabama 4, #21 Tennessee 3

Singles competition:
1. #70 Sabita Maharaj (UT) def. #6 Robin Stephenson (UA) 0-6, 6-4, 7-5
2. #83 Ashley Bentley (UA) def. Blakeley Griffith (UT) 6-1, 7-5
3. Bryce Marable (UT) def. Melissa Minor (UA) 6-4, 6-3
4. Victoria Jones (UT) def. Andrea Brenes (UA) 6-2, 7-5
5. Mari Muller (UA) def. Ashley Robards (UT) 5-7, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4
6. Natalie McElveen (UA) def. Melissa Schaub (UT) 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5)

Doubles competition:
1. Robin Stephenson/Natalie McElveen (UA) def. Sabita Maharaj/Melissa Schaub (UT) 9-8 (9-7)
2. Ashley Bentley/Melissa Minor (UA) def. Bryce Marable/Blakeley Griffith (UT) 8-2
3. Ghizela Schutte/Ashley Robards (UT) def. Mari Muller/Andrea Brenes (UA) 8-6

Match Notes:
Tennessee 7-3, 1-1 SEC; National ranking #21
Alabama 5-5, 1-1 SEC; National ranking #36
Order of finish: Doubles (2,3,1); Singles (2,3,4,1,5,6)



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