April 8, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Senior Natalie Pluskota, who was honored prior to her final career home match Sunday at Barksdale Stadium - a 6-1 loss to No. 11 Alabama - will have quite the lessons to share when she coaches collegiate tennis someday.
For the eighth time this season, No. 22 Tennessee (13-10, 4-6 SEC) was forced to play with an incomplete singles lineup, defaulting the bottom two spots to Alabama (15-3, 9-1 SEC).
Also forced to default the third position in doubles because of injuries, Tennessee lost the doubles point for just the fourth time this season, placing the Lady Vols in a 3-0 hole before singles play started.
"It's wearing on us a little bit," Pluskota said. "It's hard to going out there knowing you're already giving up so many matches but at the same time we continue to play for each other, play for our school and try to play with as much pride as possible. We're still working to get better. We can always get better, whether we have four or seven people."
The two-time All-American's Senior Day didn't go quite as planned, tweaking her leg during singles and falling 6-3, 6-2 to 23rd-ranked Mary Anne Macfarlane.
"It's definitely not the way I wanted to go out," Pluskota said. "I couldn't just walk off the court my last match. I just tried to gut it out, do what I could and finish the match. It's been a great time at UT. It couldn't get much better."
But Pluskota did give the Big Orange fans something they've grown accustomed to seeing her do over the past four years - a doubles win.
Ranked 18th with junior Kata Szekely, the duo defeated No. 19 Alexa Guarachi and Courtney McLane, 8-4, to improve to 14-1 overall and a perfect 7-0 in dual-match play. All of their wins have come by at least four points.
Their efforts came after the Tide had already clinched the doubles point. Trailing 6-0, Brynn Boren and Jesse Grace won three consecutive games to make it a contest but No. 47 Antonia Foehse and Macfarlane won the next two games to give Alabama a 1-0 lead.
Although her match finished last, Szekely provided Tennessee's only point with her third straight singles win, a 7-5, 6-1 decision over Courtney McLane.
"Alabama is a good team," co-head coach Mike Patrick said. "We would've had to play our best with everybody in the lineup to be competitive. Giving them that big of a lead, they could come out swinging from the hip and we knew we had no room for error. It was tough.
"Natalie and Kata did a great job in doubles. Kata did a great job in singles. We were competitive for a little while, but they just brought too much and played too confident against us."
Boren saw her career-high seven-match winning streak snapped with a 6-3, 6-2 loss to the 56th-ranked Guarachi, which was the decisive fourth point for Alabama. Grace lost seconds later 6-4, 6-2 to Taylor Lindsey.
With Tennessee's regular-season finale set for Noon on Saturday at No. 5 Georgia, the Lady Vols are just hoping to be healthy for the SEC Championships, which begin April 19 in Oxford, Miss.
"I'm hoping Joanna and Caitlyn can both get back for the SEC Tournament," Patrick said. "That's what we're counting on. That's why they're not playing right now. We're trying to get them healed up. Everyone is dinged up. Hopefully, we'll be better in a few days."
#11 Alabama 6, #22 Tennessee 1
1. #23 Mary Anne Macfarlane (UA) def. #29 Natalie Pluskota (UT) 6-3, 6-2
2. #56 Alexa Guarachi (UA) def. #28 Brynn Boren (UT) 6-3, 6-2
3. #49 Kata Szekely (UT) def. Courtney McLane (UA) 7-5, 6-1
4. Taylor Lindsey (UA) def. Jesse Grace (UT) 6-4, 6-2
5. Alabama by default
6. Alabama by default
1. #18 Natalie Pluskota/Kata Szekely (UT) def. #19 Alexa Guarachi/Courtney McLane (UA) 8-4
2. #47 Antonia Foehse/Mary Anne Macfarlane def. Brynn Boren/Jesse Grace (UT) 8-3
3. Alabama by default
Order of finish: Doubles (3, 2, 1); Singles (5, 6, 2, 4, 1, 3)
Records: Tennessee (13-10, 4-6 SEC), Alabama (15-3, 9-1 SEC)