May 14, 2004
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.
University of Tennessee freshman Blakeley Griffith defeated Wisconsin's Lindsay Martin in a third-set tiebreak to give the 24th-ranked Lady Vols a dramatic, 4-3 victory over the 50th-ranked Badgers in the first round of NCAA Tournament play on Friday. With the victory, Tennessee, a 17-32 seed in the tournament, advances to the second round on Saturday at 4 p.m., when it will face 15th-ranked and 14th-seeded North Carolina, which defeated Winthrop, 4-0, in the first round.
"This was just a very good college tennis match," UT Co-Head Coach Mike Patrick said. "Our team has worked hard and deserved to get a win like this."
With the match score tied at 3-3, the No. 4 singles contest between Griffith and Martin came down to a tiebreak to decide the match. Griffith, a native of Middleburg, Va., had cruised to a 6-1 victory in the first set, but fell by a count of 7-5 in set number two. The third set, meanwhile, was back-and-forth until the score was tied as six games apiece. In the tiebreak, however, Griffith raced ahead to a 6-0 lead and went on to claim a 7-2 victory to clinch the match for Tennessee. With the win, Griffith improved her team-best singles record to 31-11 on the season.
"Blakeley puts her heart into every match and always fights hard," Patrick said. "She is extremely dedicated and is a great example of what a student-athlete should be."
As has been the case throughout the season, Tennessee had to do some lineup juggling as sophomore All-American Melissa Schaub, who was scheduled to play at No. 2 doubles along with sophomore Sabita Maharaj, was sidelined due to injury. This substitution made Maharaj team up with Griffith at the No. 3 position, while juniors Breanna Kray and Ashley Robards had to move up a spot to the No. 2 position.
"When you have to deal with as many injuries as we've had this season, it can make things very tough," Patrick explained. "We haven't always been able to put our top team out on the court, but we were able to overcome that problem today."
UT's No. 3 doubles tandem of Maharaj and Griffith opened the day with an 8-2 win over Kaylan Caiati and Shana McElroy. UW quickly bounced back, though, with an 8-3 victory by Teresa Gonzaga and Caitlin Burke at the No. 2 spot. The doubles point came down to a hard-fought match on court No. 1 between Wisconsin's 42nd-ranked duo of Martin and Katie McGaffigan and UT's Tammy Encina and Majen Immink, which the Badgers won by a score of 9-7 to give them the early lead in the match.
Tennessee rebounded quickly in singles play, however, as 37th-ranked Encina cruised to a 6-3, 6-0 victory over 73rd-ranked McGaffigan at the No. 1 position. Encina, who has battled injury throughout the spring, looks to be regaining her All-America form as she now has defeated three ranked opponents in her last three matches. The senior from Miami Beach, Fla., owns a singles record of 19-19 this season.
Wisconsin would briefly re-capture the lead when Burke claimed a 6-2, 6-0 win over Robards at the No. 3 spot. Minutes later, however, UT evened the score at two points apiece, as freshman Victoria Jones registered a 6-2, 6-1 triumph over Gonzaga at the No. 6 singles position. With the win, Jones improved her singles record to 24-11 on the season.
The score would not remain tied for long, though, as 55th-ranked Maharaj notched a 6-0, 6-1 win over McElroy on court No. 2 to give the Lady Vols a 3-2 lead. Maharaj, who has won seven of her last nine matches, improved her singles record to 27-12 this season.
While Griffith and Martin were beginning the third set of their match, Immink and Caiati were also locked in a three-set battle on court No. 5, which had the potential to seal the match for Tennessee. After dropping the first set, 7-5, Immink battled back to even things up with a 6-4 victory in the second set. Caiati, however, was able to keep her team alive with a 6-4 victory in the third set to tie the match at 3-3.
With the victory, Tennessee now holds a 10-2 advantage in the all-time series against Wisconsin. The Lady Vols had defeated UW earlier this season by a score of 4-2 on Feb. 7 in Madison, Wis.
This year, Tennessee is making its 14th NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 16 seasons. All 14 appearances have come under the direction of Patrick, who is now 20-13 in the tourney. The past seven seasons, Patrick's wife, Sonia Hahn-Patrick, has joined UT for the event, compiling an NCAA mark of 16-6 during that time.
When they battle North Carolina on Saturday, the Lady Vols will be looking to earn their eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships Round of 16, which takes place in Athens, Ga., from May 20-23. Following the team tournament, the NCAA singles and doubles championships will be held in Athens over May 24-29. Maharaj and Encina will both represent the Tennessee in the singles tournament.