April 19, 2003
What turned out to be the most captivating and exciting match thus far in the 2003 SEC Women's Tennis Tournament did not end in the No. 4-seeded and eighth-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers' favor, as they were dropped by top seed and No. 2-rated Florida, 4-3, Saturday afternoon in the semifinals at UT Varsity Courts and Goodfriend Tennis Center in Knoxville. The Gators, who remained perfect all-time versus UT with a 26-0 mark, upped their overall mark to 24-2, while Tennessee dropped to 20-6 on the year. Florida will face off with the tournament's No. 2 seed Georgia for the championship tomorrow at 2 p.m. The Bulldogs defeated third-seeded Kentucky, 4-1, prior to UT and UF's matchup.
"We made things tough for ourselves losing the doubles point," said UT Co-Head Coach Mike Patrick. "We had our chances in singles. We have the next two weeks now to improve and get ready for NCAAs and that's what we'll do."
The doubles point, which proved to be the difference in the match, was won by the Gators by picking up victories at the Nos. 1 and 3 positions. At three, junior Lindsay Dawaf and senior Julia Scaringe registered the first Gator win, 8-5, over UT senior Crystal Cleveland and freshman Sabita Maharaj. It was only Cleveland and Maharaj's second loss on the season and their first versus a duo from the Southeastern Conference.
The crucial point was clinched at the top slot by the nation's No. 30 duo of rookie Jennifer Magley and sophomore Zerene Reyes, 8-4. The Gator pair upset UT's No. 5-rated tandem of senior Vilmarie Castellvi and freshman Melissa Schaub, downing their record to 17-7 at one doubles and 24-8 overall. It was Castellvi and Schaub's second-straight defeat in the tournament.
"Melissa and I didn't play as well as we could have in the doubles," said Castellvi following the match. "We got ourselves in a hole when we were down 7-3. It's not impossible to come back from that, but it's hard. We just have to learn from it.
The final doubles match at the second slot between UT junior Tammy Encina and sophomore Majen Immink and Florida sophomore Alexis Gordon and junior Julie Rotondi was suspended when the doubles had been decided. The Gators held a one-game lead at the time, 6-5.
The singles portion of the contest was lopsided in each team's favor between the upper and lower halves of the lineup. The Lady Vols dominated the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 slots, while Florida found its success at four, five and six singles. Interestingly enough, when Tennessee lost by a single point to the Gators in the regular season, it failed to claim the doubles point and lost at the exact same positions in singles.
Florida went up, 2-0, after No. 33 Reyes posted a 6-1, 6-0 win over Schaub at four singles. Schaub dropped to 22-16 with the loss and 16-9 in dual match play.
The Gators took an imposing 3-0 advantage after 16th-rated Gordon won her 16th-straight match overall at five singles, defeating Maharaj in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2. Maharaj fell to 14-13 with the loss and 8-8 in dual matches.
UT got on the board when No. 59 Cleveland came through with a win at three singles, surprising No. 24 Dawaf, 6-4, 6-0. With the victory, Cleveland moved her slate to 31-8 and 22-3 in dual matches. She is also 8-1 at the No. 3 hole this season.
It was No. 1-rated Castellvi who secured the next Big Orange win at one singles, defeating No. 41 Scaringe with ease, 6-1, 6-0. Castellvi improved to 39-4 with the victory and earned her 18th consecutive victory. She also advanced to 24-1 at No. 1 singles this year and 33-3 versus ranked opponents.
The triumph was also a milestone for the Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, native, who was recently named SEC Player of the Year. Castellvi became Tennessee's all-time leader in singles wins with 134, overtaking the record from Paula Kelly, whose 133 mark stood for over two decades.
"It's an honor," Castellvi said. "What else can I say? I certainly didn't come here with that goal in mind. It's just amazing."
The No. 82-tabbed Encina, who clinched UT's win over Vanderbilt the previous day, knotted the match up at three apiece with her 6-3, 6-2 gem against No. 28 Rotondi at the second spot. Encina upped her ledger to 22-14 with the victory and 14-9 in dual match competition. It was also her 10th victory this season against a ranked foe.
With Encina's win, all eyes in the stands were intently focused on six singles, where UT sophomore Ashley Robards had come alive in the second set of her match with No. 66 Magley after a 6-0 setback in the first frame. Robards held a 4-2 advantage at one point, but Magley roared back to take the next three games and a 5-4 lead. Robards claimed the next game, while her opponent grabbed the following round.
Attempting to push the second stanza to a tiebreaker, Robards found herself down match point on Magley's serve, 40-30, in the 12th game of the second set. After a long rally, Magley stormed the net and Robards ripped a passing shot that caught the top of the tape and dropped just inside the baseline to force the game to deuce. Magley, however, continued to play aggressively and eventually overpowered Robards the next two rallies for the 7-5 win.
The Lady Vols will now await their fate in the NCAA Tournament. Selection for the event will be televised live by ESPNEWS on Wednesday, April 30, at 4:30 p.m. Tennessee advanced to its first Final Four in school history in last year's tournament.
Final Score: No. 4 Seed Tennessee (20-6, 9-2 SEC) 3, No. 1 Seed Florida (24-2, 10-1 SEC) 4