April 18, 2003

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The eighth-rated University of Tennessee Lady Vol tennis squad advanced to the semifinals of the 2003 SEC Tournament Friday evening with a 4-1 triumph over No. 12 and fifth-seeded Vanderbilt at UT Varsity Courts and Goodfriend Tennis Center in Knoxville. UT, seeded No. 4 in the tourney, upped its overall mark to 20-5 with the victory, while Vandy dropped to 18-5. The Lady Vols will take on top seed and No. 2-ranked Florida at 2 p.m. tomorrow. The Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, Georgia and Kentucky, will square off in the other semifinal contest at 10 a.m. UK dispatched of sixth-seeded Alabama earlier in the day, 4-2, while Georgia cruised by No. 7 seed South Carolina by a 4-0 count.

"We played as a team today and did great," said UT Co-Head Coach Sonia Hahn-Patrick. "I think our girls were so ready to play and wanted to win so bad that they started to get a little nervous. The fan support today was tremendous. It was tough playing a team as talented as Vandy this early in the tournament. It seemed like a semifinal match."

Like the first matchup with Vanderbilt, the Lady Vols took the doubles point from the Commodores. Their first victory came at the No. 3 hole, where senior Crystal Cleveland and freshman Sabita Maharaj registered an 8-3 decision over junior Kori Scott and freshman Ashley Schellhas. Cleveland and Maharaj improved to 13-1 on the year and 12-1 at three doubles. The duo's first victory of the season also came against Vanderbilt on March 2 when UT escaped with a 4-3 conquest.

The Commodores responded with a triumph at one doubles. VU's No. 4-rated duo of senior Sarah Riske and junior Aleke Tsoubanos upended the No. 5 tandem of senior Vilmarie Castellvi and freshman Melissa Schaub, 8-4, avenging an 8-5 setback earlier this season. Castellvi and Schaub dropped to 17-6 on the year at No. 1 doubles and 24-7 overall.

Moments later, UT grabbed the 1-0 advantage when the 41st-ranked combo of junior Tammy Encina and sophomore Majen Immink upset the No. 29-tabbed duo of sophomore Audra Falk and junior Kelly Schmandt, 8-4. With the win, Encina and Immink moved their mark to 15-3 in duals and 14-3 at the No. 2 slot.

Things looked promising early on in the singles, as UT claimed four first sets in six of the matches. The first finisher for the Lady Vols was No. 1-ranked Castellvi at the top slot, where she posted a 6-0, 6-3 win over No. 15 Riske for her 17th-straight win. The Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, native upped her record to 38-4 on the year with the victory and 23-1 at one singles.

Castellvi's triumph also tied her with UT legend Paula Kelly for the most victories in school history with 133. She will face 41st-rated Julia Scaringe of the Gators tomorrow for a chance to rewrite the school record.

The Commodores sliced the lead in half when Falk posted a 6-4, 6-2 win over Schaub at four singles. Schaub dropped to 22-15 with the loss and 16-8 in dual matches.

Soon afterwards, the Big Orange grabbed a 3-1 lead when sophomore Ashley Robards made short work of second-year starter Annie Menees at the No. 6 position, 6-1, 6-2. Robards ran her overall mark to 19-12 and 14-5 in dual matches, including a 10-5 record at six singles.

Looking for the one crucial point that would send Vanderbilt back to Nashville, No. 82 Encina rose to the occasion at two, where she claimed a 6-1 win in the first set over No. 68 Tsoubanos. After splitting 12 games in the second frame, the contest went into a tiebreaker. Encina took a 4-2 lead on the first changeover, but Tsoubanos stormed back to take the next three points for a 5-4 advantage. Weary from the tiring second set battle, Encina regrouped to win a trio of rallies to propel the Lady Vols to the semifinals. It was the second-straight match that the Miami Beach, Fla., native secured a victory for UT, as she did the same versus Georgia on April 12. Encina improved to 21-14 with the win and 12-9 at two singles. It was also Encina's second win over Tsoubanos this season.

"I started getting tired in the tiebreaker," said Encina. "My legs were starting to cramp up and I thought 'I don't want this to go to a third set.' I knew if I won my match it would be over so I stayed aggressive. It's going to be a fun match with Florida tomorrow and we're all looking forward to a rematch."

Tennessee fell to the Gators by a 4-3 count on April 4 in Knoxville. UT dropped the doubles point to Florida and managed only three victories in singles at the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 slots by Castellvi, Cleveland and Encina. The Gators are the only SEC team Tennessee has never defeated, owning a 25-0 record against UT.

The remaining singles matches in the quarterfinal matchup were suspended once Encina clinched the Lady Vols' fourth point. At three, Cleveland claimed the first set over Schmandt by a 7-4 count in a tiebreaker, but was trailing 3-1 in the second frame. Maharaj's match with No. 108 Schellhas found the Vanderbilt rookie up 4-2 in the third set when play was stopped.

Final Score: No. 4 Seed Tennessee (20-5, 9-2 SEC) 4, No. 5 Seed Vanderbilt (18-5, 8-3 SEC) 1





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