Duke is no stranger to starting matches at an early deficit. The injury-ridden Blue Devils have played the beginning of every contest from a point down for more than a month.
Strong doubles play rallied Duke back to a draw Saturday and the Blue Devils never looked back, defeating Mississippi 4-1 at McLeod Tennis Center in Lubbock, Texas to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“It was huge for us to come out today and play one of the best matches that we’ve played all season. It’s a really good time to start peaking as a team,” senior Mary Clayton said. “After today, we don’t have an excuse that we only have five players.”
After forfeiting its match at the third doubles position, Duke needed to win both of its doubles matches to keep from falling in a 2-0 hole. Marianne Jodoin and Annie Mulholland secured an 8-5 victory on court two, which left the doubles point to be decided by Clayton and Hanna Mar, who trailed Erin Stephens and Iris Verboven 7-6.
But Clayton and Mar dug deep and won the final three games of the match, securing a 9-7 victory heading into singles play.
“I think it was absolutely essential for us to get the doubles point and definitely will be critical tomorrow [in the second round] as well,” Clayton said. “Just coming out down 1-0 it’s so huge for us to tie that up with the doubles point... We had to refuse to lose, so we stayed stubborn and had two really good service games to tip the match in our favor.”
The momentum carried over for Clayton, the No. 56-ranked singles player in the nation, who notched a quick 6-2, 6-3 victory against the Rebels’ Julia Jones to give the Blue Devils a lead they would never relinquish.
“Since I’ve been at Duke we’ve always tried to put away a singles match as fast as we can,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “Mary played really well and to get that next point after winning the doubles, not only does it give everybody more confidence it lets us play without that added pressure.”
At the fourth singles position, Jodoin defeated No. 125 Mai El Kamash 6-3, 6-1 to push Duke out to a 3-1 advantage.
No. 29 Mar defeated Mississippi’s Caroline Rohde-Moe, the 45th-ranked singles player in the country, minutes later by a score of 6-4, 6-1 to seal the match.
Ashworth said that the unsung hero of the afternoon was senior Nicole Lipp, a former women’s soccer player who joined the team less than two months ago. Lipp has struggled in singles play since joining the squad, posting an 0-11 record, and often lost her matches quickly, widening the Blue Devils’ deficit. But Lipp’s match went unfinished Saturday, and although she trailed 6-2, 5-2 when Duke notched the deciding point, Ashworth said her ability to grind out a long match energized the rest of his squad.
“Having her stay on the court and battle and fight, finding ways to win points and make the points last and not give Ole Miss another point on the scoreboard, that was huge for us,” Ashworth said. “I think everyone else saw that and fed off of that. And again it enables us to play and not worry about scores, and that’s a tribute to her.”
The Blue Devils advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they will face 16th-seeded Texas Tech on its home court Sunday at noon. A short-handed Duke lineup will have less than 24 hours to prepare for its second-round match, but Clayton said a quick turnaround often puts the Blue Devils at an advantage.
“We’ve played back-to-back matches before and usually we end up playing better our second day,” Clayton said. “So we’re even more excited for tomorrow than today.”