April 25, 2009
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - For just the second time in school history, the University of Tennessee women's tennis team will play in the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The 10th-ranked Lady Volunteers (17-5) held off a hard-charging Ole Miss squad (14-9) on Saturday afternoon, winning 4-1 at the Dills Indoor Tennis Center in Fayetteville, Ark., to advance to face No. 3 Georgia at Noon on Sunday.
UT's only other appearance in the finals of the SEC Tournament, since it was changed to the current dual-match format in 2000, came in 2001, when it lost to Georgia in Starkville, Miss., after recording victories over host Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. The Orange and White finished the 2001 campaign with a 25-4 overall record and advanced to the Round of 16 in the NCAA Championships.
"This is a very exciting win for our team," UT Co-Head Coach Mike Patrick said. "Ole Miss has played great this tournament and we were very fortunate to escape with the win today. We are looking forward to the opportunity to play another great team in Georgia again tomorrow. We've played a little tight in these first two matches, so we just need to go out there, relax and play our game. These opportunities don't come along all that often, so we will try to take full advantage and enjoy every minute of it."
Playing indoors for the second straight day due to extremely windy conditions, the Big Orange continued its trend of dominance in doubles play, winning the all-important doubles point for the eighth time in the team's last nine matches with victories on the second and third courts. The Tennessee tandem of junior Zsófia Zubor and sophomore Rosalía Alda bounced back from just its second loss of the spring against South Carolina on Friday to post a solid, 8-2, triumph over the Ole Miss combo of Abigail Guthrie and Gabriela Rangel at the second position.
Although UT had the advantage, needing to win just one of the remaining two matches, Ole Miss was not going to go away without a fight. Shortly after Alda and Zubor's win on court two, the score in both remaining contests was knotted up at 4-4. The Lady Vols used the momentum generated by the win on court two to claim the next two scores and take a 6-4 lead at both the first and second positions. The Rebels were undeterred, however, and continued to fight back.
On center court, the 25th-ranked Ole Miss pairing of Kristi Boxx and Karen Nijssen took its two-point deficit and turned it into a 7-6 lead by winning three consecutive games. That effort would be in vain though, as the match was left unfinished once UT sophomores Jennifer Meredith and Maria Sorbello were able to close out their match at the No. 3 slot. The duo defeated Laura van de Stroet and Mimi Renaudin, 8-5, to remain perfect on the season with a 7-0 record. The win also improved Tennessee's mark at the third doubles position to an astounding 21-1 this year.
The Lady Vols kept applying the pressure in singles action, going up by three on the scoreboard thanks to straight-set wins by Whoriskey and senior Samantha Orlin. Playing at the top spot in the lineup, the 45th-ranked Whoriskey avenged a loss to No. 33 Boxx earlier this season, with a dominating, 6-1, 6-2, victory. The East Sandwich, Mass., native dropped a three-set decision to Boxx on March 8 in Knoxville and was determined to make up for it. Orlin followed suit not long after, scoring a 6-3, 6-3 victory over van de Stroet at No. 3 singles to put the Orange and White within a single point of moving on to the finals of the SEC Tournament.
That last point proved to be difficult to attain, however, as Nijssen, ranked 69th in the country, took out No. 117 Pluskota on court two, 7-5, 7-5, and all three remaining matches went the distance to three sets. Sorbello finally put up the match-deciding fourth tally on the scoreboard for UT over an hour after Orlin's match, as she upended Renaudin, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4, on court six. The match was tied at 4-4 in the third set when Sorbello closed out the victory by winning the final two games of the contest. The Mackay, Australia, native has now won all nine of her dual-match singles contests and is 14-6 on the season.
"Pressure is an amazing thing," Patrick said. "Maria kind of let her match slip away from her a little bit and lost a little confidence, but she was able to make a few plays late in the third set and finish it off. I'm proud of the way she was able to get back on track and pick up a huge win for our team."
With the outcome of the match decided, the contests at the fourth and fifth positions were halted. On court four, Meredith was up 5-4 in the third set over Guthrie after splitting the first two frames, 4-6, 6-0. Alda, meanwhile, was trailing Rangel, 4-6, 6-4, 2-5 on court five.
"It's a great feeling to have another opportunity to play Georgia for the SEC Championship," Orlin said. "This program has really come a long way since my freshman year and I could not be more proud of what we have accomplished this season. Everyone has a lot of confidence going into the match tomorrow, and we can't wait to get out there and show everyone what we are capable of."
Tennessee will square off with No. 3-ranked and top-seeded Georgia for the SEC Tournament Championship at Noon on Sunday. Following that contest, the Lady Vols will return home to Knoxville where they will await their NCAA Tournament fate. The bracket will be announced on April 28 on ESPNews.
|1.||No. 45 Caitlin Whoriskey (UT)||def.||No. 33 Kristi Boxx (OM)||6-1, 6-2|
|2.||No. 69 Karen Nijssen (OM)||def.||No. 117 Natalie Pluskota (UT)||7-5, 7-5|
|3.||Samantha Orlin (UT)||def.||Laura van de Stroet (OM)||6-3, 6-3|
|4.||Jennifer Meredith (UT)||vs.||Abigail Guthrie (OM)||4-6, 6-0, 5-4 (unfinished)|
|5.||Rosalía Alda (UT)||vs.||Gabriela Rangel (OM)||4-6, 6-4, 2-5 (unfinished)|
|6.||Maria Sorbello (UT)||def.||Mimi Renaudin (OM)||6-1, 5-7, 6-4|
|1.||No. 20 Caitlin Whoriskey/Natalie Pluskota (UT)||vs.||No. 25 Kristi Boxx/Karen Nijssen (OM)||6-7 (unfinished)|
|2.||Rosalía Alda/Zsófia Zubor (UT)||def.||Abigail Guthrie/Gabriela Rangel (OM)||8-2|
|Maria Sorbello/Jennifer Meredith (UT)||def.||Laura van de Stroet/Mimi Renaudin (OM)||8-5|
Order of Finish: Doubles (2,3); Singles (1,3,2,6*)