April 16, 2004
In a contest that took more than five hours to decide, the fourth-seeded University of Tennessee (13-13, 7-4 SEC) fell to fifth-seeded Louisiana State University (17-6, 6-5 SEC) by a score of 4-3 at the Southeastern Conference Women's Tennis Championships on Friday.
"We have played a lot of close matches this season," UT Co-Head Coach Mike Patrick said. "We put ourselves in a position to win, though, and have nothing to hang our heads about. With some time to rest before the NCAA Tournament, hopefully we can get everyone healthy and put all the pieces together."
Doubles play epitomized the competitiveness of the contest, as none of the three tandem matches were decided by a margin of more than two games. The 23rd-ranked Lady Vols grabbed the early advantage in doubles with an 8-6 victory by the duo of sophomores Sabita Maharaj (Gainesville, Fla.) and Melissa Schaub (Lexington, Ohio) over Marina Chiarelli and Jessica Ferguson at the No. 2 position. Maharaj and Schaub, who have only been playing as a team since April 2, now have a record of 3-1 when paired together.
The 19th-ranked Lady Tigers, however, claimed the No. 1 doubles match, as the duo of Rocio Fantilli and Lauren Seamen edged senior Tammy Encina (Miami Beach, Fla.) and junior Majen Immink (Kent, U.K.), 9-7. LSU then claimed the doubles point with a 9-7 victory at the No. 3 position by Daysi Espinal and Amanda Mang over UT juniors Breanna Kray (Surrey, B.C., Canada) and Ashley Robards (Henderson, Ky.) in a match that lasted nearly one hour and 45 minutes.
Tennessee rebounded quickly from the disappointment of dropping the doubles point, as freshman Victoria Jones (Tyne & Wear, U.K.) posted a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Camilla Caliari at the No. 6 singles position. Jones, who has won 12 of her last 14 matches, now boasts an overall singles record of 23-11 this season.
The Lady Vols quickly gained a 2-1 advantage when 36th-ranked Encina finished off a 6-2, 6-4 triumph over 50th-ranked Ferguson at the No. 1 spot. After battling an injury throughout the season, Encina appears to be regaining her All-America form. She now has two straight victories over ranked opponents, having defeated sixth-ranked Agata Cioroch in UT's last match prior to the SEC Tournament.
LSU regained the lead, though, by claiming victory in the next singles matches to be completed. First, Chiarelli defeated Robards, 7-6(5), 6-4, at No. 3 singles, then Fantilli downed 86th-ranked Maharaj, 6-4, 6-2, at the No. 2 position to give the Lady Tigers a 3-2 advantage.
With her team's back against the wall, UT freshman Blakeley Griffith (Middleburg, Va.) came through with a clutch performance to even the match score at three points apiece. Griffith's victory over 122nd-ranked Amanda Mang, 7-5, 6-4, at the No. 4 position made her the first Lady Vol to win 30 singles match this year, as her overall record now stands at 30-11.
With the score knotted at 3-3, the contest would be decided by a grueling match at the No. 5 singles position between UT's Majen Immink and LSU's Lauren Seaman. After splitting the first two sets, Immink, who battled a muscle cramp for much of the match, rallied back from a 5-2 deficit to force a tiebreaker in the third set. In the tiebreak, however, Immink was able to fight off a match point at 6-5 but eventually fell by a score of 9-7, as the Lady Tigers claimed victory in the match.
Of Tennessee's 13 losses this season, eight have been by scores of 4-3, with four of those defeats coming in the final singles match. Additionally, in their 26 matches this season, the Lady Vols have faced 23 ranked opponents and 18 teams that received bids to the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
Despite the setback, UT still holds a 19-11 advantage in the all-time series with LSU. Earlier this season, Tennessee defeated the Bayou Bengals by a score of 6-1 in Knoxville.
After returning home, the Lady Vols will have nearly three weeks to rest and prepare for NCAA Regional play, May 14-16. NCAA Regionals will be held at 16 campus sites yet to be determined.