May 15, 2004
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.
University of Tennessee junior Ashley Robards provided the match-clinching point at No. 3 singles as the 24th-ranked Lady Vols earned a 4-3 victory over 15th-ranked and 14th-seeded North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday. With the win, Tennessee, a 17-32 seed in the tourney, advances to the NCAA "Sweet 16" for the eighth season in a row.
"We have had eight tough 4-3 losses this season, and our team's goal is to learn from every match," UT Co-Head Coach Sonia Hahn-Patrick said. "For us to be able to win a match like this shows how we have learned from our previous experiences. With all the adversity and injuries we have had to face this year, everyone is very excited to be going back to the Sweet 16." With the score tied at three and all eyes of the UNC-partisan crowd focused on court No. 3, Robards seized the win for Tennessee with a three-set victory over the Tar Heels' Caitlin Collins. After falling, 6-4, in the first set, the Henderson, Ky., native rebounded to claim the second set, 6-4, and the third set, 6-3.
"Ashley has missed matches and practice time because of injury this season, which is difficult because she is the type of player that needs to put in a lot of time on the court to play her best," Hahn-Patrick explained. "Ashley's performance today shows her and the team that if you keep working hard, good things will happen."
Unlike their first round match against Wisconsin, the Lady Vols grabbed an early lead against UNC by capturing the doubles point. Senior Tammy Encina (Miami Beach, Fla.) and junior Majen Immink (Kent, U.K.) got things rolling for Tennessee with an 8-6 victory over the 19th-ranked duo of Kendall Cline and Aniela Mojzis at the No. 1 position. The UT tandem of juniors Breanna Kray (Surrey, B.C., Canada) and Ashley Robards (Henderson, Ky.) then seized the doubles point with an 8-5 win over Lee Bairos and Kendrick Bunn at the No. 2 spot.
Kray and Robards were forced to move up from the No. 3 doubles position to the No. 2 spot because, due to an injury that sidelined sophomore All-American Melissa Schaub, UT had to make a substitution in the doubles lineup. Sophomore Sabita Maharaj, who was originally slated to team up with Schaub at the No. 2 spot, was paired with freshman Blakeley Griffith at the No. 3 position. The No. 3 doubles match between the pair of Maharaj and Griffith and the duo of Sara Anundsen and Jenna Long was suspended with the UNC tandem ahead by a score of 7-6.
Tennessee moved ahead by a score of 2-0, as freshman Victoria Jones (Tyne & Wear, U.K.) made quick work of Kendrick Bunn with a 6-0, 6-1 victory at the No. 6 singles position. The win improves Jones' singles record to 25-11 on the season.
UNC got its first point of the contest thanks to a 6-4, 6-2 victory by Anundsen over Immink at the No. 5 singles spot. The Lady Vols soon struck back, however, with a win by 55th-ranked Maharaj over Lee Bairos at the No. 2 position to give UT a 3-1 lead. After a slow start that saw her fall behind 4-0 in the first set, Maharaj found her rhythm and notched a 6-4, 6-2 triumph.
In the next match to finish, 37th-ranked Encina fell just short of clinching the match for UT in a three-set loss to 21st-ranked Mojzis at No. 1 singles. After dropping the first set, 6-2, Encina fought off a potential match-ending game in the second set to force a tiebreak. In the tiebreak, Mojzis led by a score of 7-6 but missed out on another chance to end the match, as Encina battled back to win the tiebreak, 10-8. In the third set, however, Mojzis outlasted Encina, 7-5, to pull UNC to within a point at 3-2.
North Carolina then tied the match at three points apiece, as Cline defeated Griffith, 7-6(4), 7-5, at the No. 4 position prior to Robards' decisive victory. Despite the loss, Griffith still owns a team-best record of 31-12 in singles.
Tennessee's victory on Saturday avenged a 4-3 loss to UNC earlier this season in Knoxville. The Lady Vols now hold a 13-9 advantage in the all-time series with Carolina.
This year, Tennessee is making its 14th NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 16 seasons. All 14 appearances have come under the direction of Co-Head Coach Mike Patrick, who is now 21-13 in the tourney. The past seven seasons, Patrick's wife, Hahn-Patrick, has joined UT for the event, compiling an NCAA mark of 17-6 during that time.
The NCAA Championships Round of 16 will take place this year in Athens, Ga., from May 20-23. In the Sweet 16, UT will face the winner of Sunday's match between Vanderbilt and Florida State. 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.