» Ranking: 10
» Ranking: 2
Burdette/Gibbs only duo to beat Pluskota/Szekely (18-2)...Pluskota finishes career sixth all-time at UT with 107 wins.
Natalie Pluskota and Kata Szekely's 7-6 (1), 6-1 loss in the NCAA Doubles Tournament semifinals officially closes Tennessee's 2012 season and Pluskota's career. The first-set tiebreaker was Tennessee's fifth of the tournament, but the first it had lost.
Leading 6-5 in the first set and serving, Stanford was able to break and force a tiebreaker. Burdette and Gibbs ran away with the tiebreaker, 7-1, and controlled the second set.
WHAT IT MEANS:
The end of an era. Natalie Pluskota's career ends with four All-America honors, three All-SEC selections, three NCAA Doubles Final Four appearances and 107 doubles wins, the sixth-most in UT history. Kata Szekely ends the season as the team leader in singles and doubles wins. Her 31 doubles victories were the 13th-most in a single season by any Lady Vol all-time.
NP: "It's hard. I'm not ready to leave, but at the same time I left it all out there and I definitely gave my all for Tennessee."
KS: "It's amazing. Before the season, I would've never imagined making it to the final four in doubles. I'm pretty sure in a couple days, I'll be really happy about it."
» Ranking: 10
» Ranking: 22
UT advances to NCAA Doubles Final Four for third time in four years...11th straight win for duo...Have won 18 of 19.
Despite trailing 5-3 in the third set and facing three match points, Natalie Pluskota and Kata Szekely rallied to comeback and win a tiebreaker, defeating Florida's Lauren Embree and Joanna Mather 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (3) to advance to the NCAA Doubles Tournament Semifinals. MATCH RECAP
Down 40-0 on serve with Florida leading the third set 5-4, Tennessee strung together five consecutive points to tie the set at 5. The duos split the next two games, and Tennessee dominated the tiebreaker to win.
Second-seed Mallory Burdette and Nicole Gibbs (Stanford), who defeated Pepperdine's Lorraine Guillermo and Khunpak Issara 6-1, 6-3 on Saturday. Sunday's semifinal match is set for 4 p.m. ET.
KS: "I'm really happy and out of words right now. It was really hard to win that service game when we were down love-40. We had a crazy match point but I saved and I think that was the turning point in the match."
NP: "Every time, it gets a little more and more special. It's definitely a great opportunity. To do it with Kata, a different player, is tremendous and exciting. Hopefully, we can win this one and go onto the National Championship.".
» Ranking: 10
» Ranking: 18
Pluskota becomes fourth four-time All-American in program history...Szekely 15th Lady Vol All-American...10th consecutive win.
Natalie Pluskota and Kata Szekely used a pair of tiebreakers to move past Virginia's Emily Fraser and Lindsey Hardenbergh 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2) into the NCAA Doubles Quarterfinals. The win earns the duo All-American honors.
Leading 5-1 in the second set, Pluskota and Szekely felt the pressure and allowed Virginia's duo to work its way back into contention. Fraser and Hardenbergh rallied to win five straight games and appear on the verge of tying the match at a set apiece. Pluskota and Szekely turned it around, however, breaking serve to force a tiebreaker. After splitting the first four points, UT's tandem reeled off the final five points to advance.
BY THE NUMBERS:
1: Reaching the NCAA Doubles Championships quarterfinals for the third time in her career, Natalie Pluskota became the first Lady Vol to accomplish the feat. She advanced to the semifinals as a freshman in 2009 with Caitlin Whoriskey, and the duo followed it up by reaching the championship match the following year.
3: Pluskota and Szekely are the third Tennessee duo to reach the quarterfinals of the NCAA Doubles Tournament, marking the fourth time it's happened in UT history.
4: Pluskota is just the fourth Lady Vol to become a four-time All-American, matching the program record. Margi Lepsi and Manisha Malhotra were the first to do it in 1998, and were followed by Vilmarie Castellvi.
5: Pluskota is the fifth Lady Vol all-time to become a three-time All-American in doubles (2009, 2010 & 2012), joining Paula and Peta Kelly, Margie Lepsi, and Manisha Malhotra.
10: Consecutive doubles matches that Pluskota and Szekely have won together, owning a 17-1 overall record. Additionally, it marked Szekely's 13th consecutive win in doubles (also winning three with Joanna Henderson) and her 17th win in the last 18.
15: Szekely is the 15th all-time Lady Vol to earn All-American honors and the 10th to do so in doubles.
23: Where Szekely now ranks all-time with 63 doubles wins at Tennessee, a list she'll certainly climb before her time wearing orange is over.
106: Pluskota's 106 career doubles wins are tied for the sixth-most in Tennessee history with Zsofia Zubor (2006-10).
Florida's Lauren Embree and Joanna Mather (ranked 22), who defeated 5-8 seed Annie Goransson and Anett Schutting (California) on Friday. Quarterfinal match time is set for 2 p.m. ET on Saturday. Pluskota and Szekely defeated the Gator duo, 8-3, early in November at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.
NP: "It's exciting. It's a goal and a dream of mine to become a four-time All-American since my freshman year. Honestly, today I'm just super pumped for Kata. I really wanted to get her All-American status and we accomplished that today."
KS: "It's great. Before the season started, that was one of my goals - to somehow become an All-American. I accomplished my biggest goal. Now, we have to go after it and try to win the tournament."
NP: "We just have to go after it and leave it all out there. Everyone at this point is really good and wanting to win. We just have to stick to our gameplan and execute.".
» Record: 16-10
» Ranking: 35
» Record: 37-5
» Ranking: 3
Finishes singles career with 56-45 record...Ends season-high four-match winning streak...Led second-set tiebreaker 5-2.
Natalie Pluskota truly gave her all for Tennessee, but fell short in two sets that could've gone either way to third-seeded Nicole Gibbs of Stanford 7-6 (1), 7-6 (6). Pluskota took the first break of the match in the first set to lead 4-2, but Gibbs battled back for a 4-all tie. Pluskota had two opportunities to close out the first set with another break at 5-4 and 6-5, but Gibbs held each time. After forcing the tiebreaker, Gibbs scored seven of eight points to go up a set. Both players broke each other's serve to open the second set (1-1), but neither did the rest of the way. Pluskota forced the tiebreaker this time after trailing 6-5 and seemed to be running away with the race to seven, leading 5-1. After switching sides, Gibbs scored the next four points to tie it. Pluskota held serve to lead 6-5 and had an opportunity to put it away at the net, but didn't get it over. Gibbs took advantage, scoring the next two points to win, 8-6.
With a 5-1 lead in the second-set tiebreaker, the two switched sides. Gibbs found new life, scoring the next four points and seven of the final eight.
WHAT IT MEANS:
Gibbs moves on to the tournament's quarterfinals, while Pluskota's singles career at Tennessee comes to a close. By advancing this far, Pluskota became the fifth Lady Vol to earn All-American honors in both singles and doubles in her career, and the 10th overall to do it in singles alone.
» Ranking: 10
» Ranking: 4
Winners of nine consecutive...16-1 overall...Pluskota now tied for seventh all-time at UT with 105 doubles wins.
Natalie Pluskota and Kata Szekely are getting used to this winning thing. The duo is undefeated in 2012 (9-0), and holds a 16-1 record overall. After using a tightly-contested first set tiebreaker, 7-6 (2), UT took a couple games to regain focus in the second set. But after that, it was all orange as Tennessee defeated Shinann Featherston and Lauren McHale (UNC) 7-6 (2), 6-3.
Down 2-0 in the second set, Pluskota and Szekely reeled off three consecutive games and six of the next seven to close out the Tar Heel tandem.
WHAT IT MEANS:
The duo is closer to earning All-American honors in doubles. Another win would officially clinch it, but already ranked 10th heading into the tournament, beating the nation's fourth-ranked couple won't hurt their odds regardless of what happens Friday. Natalie Pluskota is now tied for seventh at UT with Alison Ojeda with 105 doubles wins. She can move up to sixth with another win.
Thursday's winner of Millie Nichols/Olivia Smith (TCU) and Lindsey Hardenbergh/Emily Fraser (Virginia) on Friday in the Round of 16. Nichols spent her freshman season with the Lady Vols before transferring.
Szekely: "I think it was a really hard team to beat. Obviously, they're the number four team in the country for a reason. They came out with some great shots. We were just fighting as hard as we could."
Pluskota:"Going down 2-0, we were going into our service game. We knew we had to hold. I was coming up serving and we hadn't gotten broken on my serve. I knew if we could hold, we'd get our break because we were actually doing really well on our return game."
» Record: 15-10
» Ranking: 35
» Record: 15-11
» Ranking: 50
Fifth Lady Vol to earn All-American honors in singles and doubles...Also fifth Lady Vol to advance to NCAA Singles Round of 16...Matched season-high fourth straight win.
Coming into the NCAA Individual tournaments, Natalie Pluskota was already considered among the elite all-time to play at Tennessee, but she's not ready for her career to be over. Pluskota used a 5-7, 6-1, 7-5 win over Arizona's Lacey Smyth to advance to the Round of 16 and earn All-American honors in singles. She's the 10th player at UT to earn that distinction in singles and the fifth to do it in both singles and doubles during her career. After losing a tight first set, Pluskota dominated the second round and carried her momentum into the final frame, leading 5-2 before finishing off her opponent.
Pluskota established control in the second set, dominating with a 6-1 performance. She used that to take a 5-2 lead in the decisive third set, but Smyth battled back to tie it at five. Pluskota overcame Smyth's game point opportunity in the 11th game, and eventually won, 7-5.
Third-seeded Nicole Gibbs (Stanford), who came back to defeat 21st-ranked Joanna Mather (Florida) 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the Round of 32. Friday's match time is TBD.
WHAT'S ON THE LINE:
Pluskota can become just the Lady Vol to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Singles Championships and the first since Vilmarie Castellvi did it in both 2002 and 2003.
"I'm pumped. I came here to win and I did that today. I'm extremely excited to be an All-American again. It was a big goal of mine coming in freshman year. To me, it's really important and I accomplished that. But I don't want to stop here."
"It's a tremendous honor. I wouldn't trade it for the world. I love this university and every day I give it everything I have. To be a singles All-American - something I haven't done - is definitely a great accomplishment and means a lot to me."
"The first set was tight. We were having great points in that. Coming out in the second, I just really needed to focus on holding because I didn't hold a lot in the first. I was breaking a lot in the second. I just steamrolled through in the second and went after it."
"I was up 5-2, but she was swinging for the fences. I got caught moving backwards a little too much. I just needed to gut it out again in that 5-all game. When I went up to serve again, I felt pretty comfortable.".
» Record: 26-8
» Ranking: 57
» Record: 18-1
» Ranking: 37
Szekely will finish season as team-leader with 26 wins...Loss snapped career-high seven-match winning streak...Defeated 10 ranked opponents this season.
Kata Szekely will head into her senior season in 2012-13 with plenty to be proud of. Her 6-3, 6-4 season-ending loss came to Georgia State's Abigail Tere-Apisah, who has only lost one match all year. Szekely led the Lady Vols with 26 wins this season, 10 of which were against ranked foes.
Szekely trailed 4-1 in the first set before holding serve and breaking Tere-Apisah's to pull within 4-3. She had game point with an opportunity to tie the first set, but Tere-Apisah toughed it out, took the first set, 6-3, and went on to win the match. Each player held serve to 4-4 in the second set, but Tere-Apisah broke and held to secure the win.
Szekely's season concludes in singles, but she will play Thursday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. ET in doubles with Natalie Pluskota. Szekely will be Tennessee's lone senior next season.
"She was playing really well during the whole match. She hit the ball really hard. As soon as I tried to change my gameplan, she adjusted really well. I felt like no matter what I did she had an answer to both of my shots. Kudos to her. She played really well today."
"At the beginning of this year, I would've wished for a season like this. Right now, I'm disappointed but in a couple of days I'm pretty sure I'll be really proud of all the wins I had this year."
"I'll work on my game again like I do every summer when I go home. I'll try to work on my fitness at the same time. When I get back in the fall, I can really improve and set a really good example for the incoming freshmen with my work ethic and everything else. I would like to have an even better season next year.".
» Record: 25-10
» Ranking: 32
» Record: 27-5
» Ranking: 23
Match lasted 3 1/2 hours...Second consecutive three-set match...Concludes season second on team with 25 wins.
In a three and a half hour match, where every point seemed to be that long, Baylor's Nina Secerbegovic outlasted Brynn Boren and advanced to the Round of 16 with a 6-7 (2), 7-5, 6-4 win. Each player displayed toughness and gutsy performances, but Secerbegovic broke a 4-4 tie in the final set, taking the final two games to win.
After falling behind 2-0 in the final set, Boren won three straight games and appeared to be in control. But nothing was predictable in this match. Secerbegovic won the next two, and Boren tied it again at four games. During the fifth match, Boren's leg cramped up and she fell behind, 5-4. After receiving treatment, Secerbegovic took advantage and came out on top.
Boren's 2011-12 season is officially over, but tabbed the ITA Ohio Valley Region's Player To Watch, the two-time All-SEC selection has a bright future ahead. She'll enter next season with career marks of 55-24 in singles and 48-18 in doubles..
» Record: 25-8
» Ranking: 57
» Record: 32-9
» Ranking: 12
Career-high seventh consecutive win...Highest-ranked win of career and third Top 30 win of season...Fifth Lady Vol to advance to NCAA Second Round.
The first Lady Vol of the day to finish, Kata Szekely set the bar high, defeating 9-16 seed and 12th-ranked Emina Bektas (Michigan) 6-4, 7-5. Szekely jumped out to a 4-2 lead in the opening set and after breaking for her third point, she held the rest of the way. A furious second-set comeback lifted Szekely to Thursday's Round of 32.
Down a set, Emina Bektas came out swinging and took a 4-1 lead in the second stanza. But Szekely settled down and won the next four games to lead 5-4 and eventually wrapped up the set, 7-5.
Georgia State's Abigail Tere-Apisah, who defeated Katie Le (Santa Clara) 7-6, 5-7, 6-0 on Wednesday.
WHAT'S ON THE LINE:
With a win Thursday, Kata Szekely can earn All-American status in singles, something that only nine other Lady Vols have done.
"In the second set, my opponent started playing better and better. She made a lot of first serves which was really important. After that, I just tried to stay focused and tried to win my service games, hoping that at some point I would have a chance to break her back."
"In singles, I have to come in with a mentality that I really need to fight as hard as I can because it's going to be a really important match. In the second round, you're not going to face any bad players."
» Record: 24-12
» Ranking: 32
» Record: 30-13
» Ranking: 11
Has won 12 of 15 matches...Highest-ranked win of career and eighth of season...Sixth Lady Vol to advance to NCAA Round of 32.
Brynn Boren has come a long way since losing her eighth career match in Oct. 2010 to Jillian O'Neill 6-0, 6-0. The All-SEC first-teamer fought through several tough stretches in Tennessee's tightest match of the day and avenged that loss with a 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4 win. A second-set lacking drama was sandwiched in between two that were loaded with it, both of which Boren conquered.
There were two critical moments in Boren's big win Wednesday. After dropping a game in which she led 40-0 to fall behind 5-3 in the opening set, Boren swept through the next game to hold serve and went on to win three straight games and take a 6-5 lead. After O'Neill pushed back, Boren scored the final five points of the tiebreaker to win the first set 7-6 (2). In the decisive set, Boren was down 2-0 and faced game point in the third game several times. She also overcame O'Neill's game point in the next game, winning three consecutive and five of six to seize control of the set and match.
Baylor's Nina Secerbegovic, who defeated North Carolina's Lauren McHale 6-3, 6-2 on Wednesday. Boren beat Secerbegovic 6-0, 6-3 at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships earlier this season.
WHAT'S ON THE LINE:
A trip to the Round of 16 and All-American status in singles. Only eight Lady Vols have done that all-time.
"She was on a roll and she was playing a lot better. My goal for the whole entire match was to keep fighting no matter what. That's what I did in game three. I wasn't going to give up."
"(Beating Secerbegovic before) gives me a lot of confidence. I know how to play her, but it's been a long time since we last played. It's been about four months. She could be a completely different player mentally and physically. You just never know. Stranger things have happened at the NCAAs."
» Record: 14-10
» Ranking: 35
» Record: 27-14
» Ranking: 54
Winner of three straight and six of seven...Seventh Lady Vol to advance to NCAA Singles Second Round...Eighth career three-set win.
A roller coaster match ended with Natalie Pluskota reaching the loading zone with a big smile and hands in the air. Defeating Utah's Anastasia Putilina 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, Pluskota won four consecutive games to close out a dominating first set, lost control in the second set, and then grinded out a win in the third and decisive set.
After seemingly running away with the final set leading 4-1, Pluskota found herself trailing 5-4 (see what we meant by roller coaster?). Facing Putilina's serve, Pluskota rallied off the first three points of the next game, tied the set at five, and cruised the rest of the way.
Arizona's Lacey Smith, who upset 9-16 seed and 10th-ranked Kristi Boxx (Mississippi) on Wednesday.
WHAT'S ON THE LINE:
By advancing to the Round of 16 with a win Thursday, Pluskota can become just the fifth player in Tennessee history to have earned All-American distinctions in both singles and doubles.
"Going in, I had a lead and then went down 5-4. Going into her serve, I just had to go after and make her work on her service game. I knew if I could break and then hold the next game that I'd be in a comfortable spot. I did that and ended up coming out on top."
"It's awesome. We worked hard to get to where we are today. All three of us moving on is a great accomplishment, but we're definitely not stopping here. We're going to go into tomorrow strong and hopefully, come out on top."