April 25, 2009
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - The 10th-ranked University of Tennessee women's tennis team (16-5) outlasted a spirited South Carolina squad (13-10) in the second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Friday afternoon, winning a 4-2 battle over the No. 22 Gamecocks at the Billingsley Tennis Center in Fayetteville, Ark. Junior Caitlin Whoriskey picked up a clutch victory on center court to clinch the win for the Lady Volunteers, who advance to the semifinal round to face 26th-rated and seventh seed Ole Miss at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
"This was just a great college tennis match between two very talented teams," UT Co-Head Coach Mike Patrick said. "Both teams showed up ready to play and we are very fortunate to have come out on top. Give credit to South Carolina, they really made us work for everything we got. We'll try to get some rest tonight and get ready for another very good team in Ole Miss tomorrow.
"Caitlin (Whoriskey) showed why she is at the top of our singles lineup," Patrick said. "She did exactly what she was supposed to do. She stayed patient, didn't overplay and was able to come up with a huge win for us. Jennifer (Meredith) also played really well today. She made short work of a terrific player in Natasa Vuckovic, which is not easy to do."
The Big Orange was fortunate to be the first team to crack the scoreboard, winning a pair of hard-fought doubles contests to go up 1-0. After the two teams split victories at the top two positions, the Tennessee tandem of Jennifer Meredith and Maria Sorbello scored the point-clinching triumph on court three.
The sophomore duo was up 5-3 over the Gamecock combo of Dijana Stojic and Suzanna Mansour when USC evened things up with a win on the second court. The two squads held serve for the next four games before the Lady Vols were able to break Mansour to win the contest 8-5 and give their squad the early lead. With the win, Meredith and Sorbello remain perfect on the season with a 6-0 record.
Prior to that victory, the 20th-ranked UT pairing of junior Caitlin Whoriskey and freshman Natalie Pluskota opened the afternoon's festivities with a dominating, 8-1, triumph over the No. 37-rated South Carolina duo of Natasa Vuckovic and Ana Marija Zubori on center court. The win moved Whoriskey and Pluskota's record to 11-5 on the season, including an impressive 8-5 mark against ranked opponents. Meanwhile, USC's lone doubles win came at the second position in the lineup where Miljana Jocic and Gira Schofield defeated junior Zsófia Zubor and sophomore Rosalía Alda, 8-2.
The Lady Vols kept the momentum going in singles play, tallying a pair of quick wins at the fourth and sixth positions to take a 3-0 lead. Meredith earned the first triumph, taking out Vuckovic in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, and Sorbello followed suit shortly after, claiming a 6-3, 6-1, win over Mansour. Meredith now leads the team with a 25-11 singles record, while Sorbello's victory marked her eighth consecutive during the dual-match portion of UT's schedule.
Despite the huge deficit that it faced and the fact that it needed to win all four remaining matches to advance in the tournament, South Carolina refused to give up. Stojic finally got the Gamecocks on the scoreboard with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Lady Vol senior Samantha Orlin at the No. 3 position. The 43rd-ranked Zubori then cut the USC deficit to just one by defeating No. 117 Pluskota, 7-6 (8), 6-3, at the second singles slot.
All eyes then turned to center court, where the 45th-ranked Whoriskey and No. 46 Schofield were engaged in an epic battle. The match was tied at 4-4 in the second set after Whoriskey claimed the opening frame in a tiebreaker, 7-6 (3). The UT junior went up by a score, finishing off the game with an ace, before Schofield held serve as well to knot it back up at five-all. Another ace by Whoriskey closed out the next game, as the East Sandwich, Mass., native took a 6-5 lead. She was then able to break Schofield's serve to earn her 20th singles win, and first match-clinching victory, of the season.
"We knew going into the match that it was going to be a close one," Whoriskey said. "Just to pull out a win was great. I didn't want to see my team disappointed because we've worked so hard this year. I was just trying to outwork her," Whoriskey said. "I knew her forehand was the side that was going to break down first, so I tried to work it to set up the point. I was just trying to be aggressive and take the match to her and close it out myself."
Upon the completion of the Whoriskey-Schofield showdown, the match on court five was halted. In a microcosm of the entire match, Alda and Jocic had battled each other blow-for-blow, with each player claiming a set. Alda won the opening frame, 6-3, and was leading 2-1 in the third set, 2-1, while Jocic was victorious in the second set, 6-4.
Tennessee advances to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament for the third time in the last four years. The third-seeded Big Orange will face No. 26 and seventh-seed Ole Miss at 1 p.m. on Saturday for the right to play in the finals against either Georgia or Florida at Noon on Sunday.
1. No. 45 Caitlin Whoriskey (UT) def. No. 46 Gira Schofield (USC) - 7-6 (3), 7-5
2. No. 43 Ana Marija Zubori (USC) def. No. 117 Natalie Pluskota (UT) - 7-6 (8), 6-3
3. Dijana Stojic (USC) def. Samantha Orlin (UT) - 6-4, 6-3
4. Jennifer Meredith (UT) def. Natasa Vuckovic (USC) - 6-2, 6-3
5. Rosalía Alda (UT) vs. Miljana Jocic (USC) - 6-3, 4-6, 2-1 (unfinished)
6. Maria Sorbello (UT) def. Suzanna Mansour (USC) - 6-3, 6-1
1. No. 20 Caitlin Whoriskey/Natalie Pluskota (UT) def. No. 37 Natasa Vuckovic/Ana Marija Zubori (USC) - 8-1
2. Miljana Jocic/Gira Schofield (USC) def. Rosalía Alda/Zsófia Zubor (UT) - 8-2
3. Maria Sorbello/Jennifer Meredith (UT) def. Dijana Stojic/Suzanna Mansour (USC) - 8-5
Order of Finish: Doubles (1,2,3); Singles (4,6,3,2,1*,5)