May 23, 2009
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - With its third victory this week, the No. 10-ranked University of Tennessee doubles pairing of junior Caitlin Whoriskey and freshman Natalie Pluskota has become the second team in Lady Volunteer history to advance to the semifinals of the NCAA Doubles Championships. The UT tandem defeated the 34th-ranked Clemson combo of Josipa Bek and Ina Hadziselimovic in a three-set thriller, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, Saturday morning at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
"Caitlin and Natalie are really playing their best tennis of the season right now," UT co-head coach Mike Patrick said. "Although they were a little tentative today, their aggressiveness and confidence has gone up a notch this tournament. Today's match was extremely close and it came down to a couple of big points against a very crafty team. Fortunately, we were able to hold serve and had enough in us to get one break in the third set and that was all we needed.
"I am extremely proud of what Caitlin and Natalie have been able to accomplish so far and look forward to seeing them out there again tomorrow," Patrick said. "We have a formidable foe in front of us and they know they will have to be at their best in order to win. Both of the Stanford players are very talented and really don't have any big flaws. They present a huge challenge, but it is something we are really looking forward to."
By reaching the semifinals, Whoriskey and Pluskota have matched the best performance in the NCAA Doubles Championships in school history, as Shannon Kagawa and Mandy Wilson joined forces to accomplish the feat in 1992 as well. With three NCAA triumphs each, the two teams combine to account for six of the nine total victories in program history.
For the second time in four days, Whoriskey and Pluskota will square off against a team from Stanford, as they are scheduled to face the nation's eighth-ranked duo of Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette on Sunday. The Cardinal pairing is 26-7 on the season, has amassed a 14-6 mark against nationally-ranked opponents and is riding a 12-match winning streak.
In Saturday's contest, the Lady Vols struck the first blow, using a total of three service breaks to claim the opening set by a 6-4 score. Although both teams held serve through the first four games, neither could do so over the course of the next five. UT scored the first break to go up 3-2, but Clemson answered immediately to tie it right back up. A pair of double-faults proved to be the downfall for Bek in the following game as the Lady Vols regained the advantage at 4-3, but Whoriskey was unable to build on the momentum and the Tigers broke her serve to return the match to a deadlock.
The East Sandwich, Mass., native quickly redeemed herself though, smashing a winner down the left-side of the court to break Hadziselimovic and give her team the opportunity to serve for the set. Pluskota was finally able to stop the run of service breaks, tallying four quick points to give UT a 6-4 first-set victory.
Clemson was undeterred, however, bouncing right back to claim the second frame, 6-3, and send the match into a third and deciding set. Unlike the initial set, the Tigers were able to hold serve on all five of their opportunities and picked up the only break en route to tying the contest. Despite dropping the frame, Tennessee had its chances, narrowly missing on a pair of break point attempts in the fifth game. Bek was able to fight them both off though and kept her squad on pace for the win.
In a virtual repeat of the second set, a single break proved to be the difference in the third and final frame. This time, however, it was the Lady Vols who were able to accomplish the feat, doing so on the last point of the contest to earn the victory and advance to the semifinals. It looked as if UT would score a break of Hadziselimovic early on, but she held off four break points to keep the score tied at 2-2. Neither squad would falter on serve over the next five games, sending Bek back to the service line with Tennessee leading 5-4.
An overhead smash by Whoriskey immediately greeted her and gave the Lady Vols a quick 15-0 lead. Whoriskey then split the two Clemson players with a nice forehand and Pluskota followed with a beautiful lob just inside the baseline to set up triple-match point. Bek and Hadziselimovic were not done fighting though, clawing their way back to deuce with three consecutive points.
Pluskota then blasted a return down the left-side of the court that Hadziselimovic could not handle to give Tennessee its fourth chance to win the match. Once again, however, the game was brought back to deuce when a Hadziselimovic forehand just caught the line. After a Bek return landed long on the next point, the Lady Vols finally converted on their fifth match-point opportunity as Bek was not able to get a Whoriskey return back into play, hitting it into the bottom of the net, to end the contest.
Match times for Sunday have yet to be determined but will be posted at www.AggieAthletics.com when available. A link to live video of tomorrow's doubles contest can be found at www.UTLadyVols.com.
Quarterfinals - Saturday
No. 10 Caitlin Whoriskey/Natalie Pluskota (UT) def. No. 34 Josipa Bek/Ina Hadziselimovic (Clemson) - 6-4, 3-6, 6-4
Semifinals - Sunday
No. 10 Caitlin Whoriskey/Natalie Pluskota (UT) vs. No. 8 Hilary Barte/Lindsay Burdette (Stanford)