April 18, 2009
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The13th-ranked University of Tennessee women's tennis team put forth a valiant effort, but fell just short of winning the first Southeastern Conference championship in school history, dropping hotly-contested, 5-2, decision to No. 2 Georgia (20-2, 10-1 SEC) in front of a raucous crowd of 345 on Saturday afternoon on the UT Varsity Courts in Knoxville. The Lady Volunteers (15-5, 8-3 SEC) will open the postseason portion of their schedule next week, when they travel to Fayetteville, Ark., to compete as the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament, April 23-26.
"Unfortunately, we just came up a little bit short against a very good Georgia team today," UT Co-Head Coach Mike Patrick said. "We had our chances, but we just had some trouble executing in the clutch on the big points. The difference in today's match was that Georgia is an experienced team that has played a number of big matches like this, while we have not. They are very talented and extremely deserving of the SEC title this year.
"I'm very proud of the effort we gave today," Patrick said. "We battled about as hard as we can. Just like our other losses this year, we will use this as a learning experience and continue to work as hard as we can to improve each and every day.
"Other than the final outcome, everything was perfect today," Patrick said. "The weather was great and we had an outstanding crowd that was loud and enthusiastic throughout the entire match. They really helped us out on the court today and I would like to thank everyone who came out to support us."
The match opened with a doubles battle for the ages. After the Bulldogs struck the first blow with the 17th-ranked duo of Chelsey Gullickson and Nadja Gilchrist scoring an 8-5 victory over the No. 18-rated Tennessee tandem of junior Caitlin Whoriskey and Natalie Pluskota on center court, the final two matches could not have been more tightly contested.
Shortly after the first doubles match went final, the players in the remaining two contests found themselves tied at 7-7 on both courts. With UT needing a pair of wins to become just the fifth team this season to defeat the Bulldogs in doubles play, the duo of sophomores Jennifer Meredith and Maria Sorbello kept the team's hopes alive by winning back-to-back points to close out its 9-7 triumph over the UGA pairing of Cameron Ellis and Naoko Ueshima.
Meanwhile, the two squads on the second court had traded a pair of points to reach an 8-8 deadlock, forcing a tiebreaker to decide the all-important doubles point. Unfortunately, the Lady Vol team of junior Zsófia Zubor and sophomore Rosalía Alda fell behind early, 1-5, and could not recover. It did mount a short rally to cut the lead to just one at 5-6, but could not quite close it out, eventually dropping the tiebreaker, 5-7, to the Bulldog duo of Monika Dancevic and Yvette Hyndman.
The dramatics carried over into singles play as well, where the Lady Vols battled to the bitter end. Georgia quickly put the Orange and White in a 2-0 hole, as the 10th-ranked Gullickson defeated No. 48 Whoriskey on center court, 6-3, 6-2. Undeterred, Pluskota cut the team's deficit in half, with an impressive, 6-3, 6-4, triumph over the 45th-ranked Hyndman at the second position in the lineup. The win marked the Newnan, Ga., native's third of the season over a ranked opponent and Hyndman now stands as the highest-rated player that she has defeated in her brief UT career.
The scoreboard continued to read 2-1 in favor of the Bulldogs for quite a while after Pluskota's win, as all four remaining matches proved to be epic battles. Over an hour after the Pluskota-Hyndman contest came to an end, Georgia cracked the scoreboard once again, when the No. 55-ranked Gilchrist emerged victorious in three sets over UT senior Samantha Orlin, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1, in the final home match of her career. The Miami, Fla., native, who has honored in a Senior Day ceremony prior to the match, is currently tied for the team lead with 24 singles wins this season and stands just two wins shy of 15th on the Tennessee career singles wins chart with a record of 83-51.
"Samantha has been a rock for us the past four years," Patrick said. "She shows up to every single practice and match ready to give her all for Tennessee. The success our team has had this season is a testament to her leadership abilities. The fact that she is the only senior has put a lot of responsibility on her shoulders, but she has handled it extremely well all season."
Although the odds seemed almost insurmountable, the Lady Vols refused to give up and continued to fight on all three remaining courts. Those efforts paid off at the No. 6 position, where Sorbello gave the Big Orange its second point of the afternoon with a straight-set, 6-4, 6-4, win over Ellis. The Mackay, Australia, native has now won all seven of her dual-match singles contests and finishes the regular season with a 5-0 record in SEC play.
Unfortunately for the Lady Vol faithful, that would be the team's final point of the day, as No. 73 Dancevic and Ueshima closed out the Georgia victory with wins on the fourth and fifth courts within seconds of each other. First to finish was Dancevic, who outlasted Meredith in a pair of tiebreakers, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (6), while Ueshima bounced back from a loss in the opening frame to down Alda, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.
The Big Orange will next be in action when it makes the trip to Fayetteville, Ark., for the SEC Tournament, April 23-26. As the third seed in the competition, UT has earned a bye in the first round. The team's first match will be at 2:30 p.m. CT on Friday, April 24, against the winner of Thursday's showdown between No. 6-seeded South Carolina and 11th-seed Kentucky.
|1. No. 10 Chelsey Gullickson (UGA) def. No. 48 Caitlin Whoriskey (UT)||6-3, 6-2|
|2. Natalie Pluskota (UT) def. No. 45 Yvette Hyndman (UGA)||6-3, 6-4|
|3. No. 55 Nadja Gilchrist (UGA) def. Samantha Orlin (UT)||6-3, 1-6, 6-1|
|4. No. 73 Monika Dancevic (UGA) def. Jennifer Meredith (UT)||7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (8-6)|
|5. Naoko Ueshima (UGA) def. Rosalía Alda (UT)||3-6, 6-4, 6-4|
|6. Maria Sorbello (UT) def. Cameron Ellis (UGA)||6-4, 6-4|
|1. No. 17 Chelsey Gullickson/Nadja Gilchrist (UGA) def. No. 18 Caitlin Whoriskey/Natalie Pluskota (UT)||8-5|
|2. Monika Dancevic/Yvette Hyndman (UGA) def. Rosalía Alda/Zsófia Zubor (UT)||9-8 (7-5)|
|3. Maria Sorbello/Jennifer Meredith (UT) def. Cameron Ellis/Naoko Ueshima||9-7|
|Order of Finish: Doubles (1,3,2); Singles (1,2,3,6,4*,5)|