Coming off a season-opening victory against William & Mary, Duke faced a much stiffer test in the Freeman Memorial Championships—a tournament that boasted five of the top six teams in the nation, 12 top-50 singles players and two of the nation's top three doubles tandems.
And despite some ups-and-downs, the Blue Devils proved that they can compete with the best—especially in doubles, where Beatrice Capra and Hanna Mar knocked off two ranked teams, including the No. 3 duo in the country en route to a top-four finish at the Championships, which took place Friday through Sunday at the Fertitta Tennis Complex in Las Vegas.
“Our expectations were high—we wanted to prove that we were one of the top teams in the country,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We definitely got better as the weekend got on, and I think the way we finished with our singles [Sunday] was really good and encouraging.
It was an unusual situation for Duke. Despite being the 10th-ranked team in the nation, the Blue Devils entered play ranked below every competing school except for host UNLV.
“It’s a different mentality when you’re playing against [these teams],” Ashworth said. “The focus is a little bit different. You know that they’re going to have talented players and it’s going to be a good match. And the more matches we can play in pressure situations, the better.”
A point of concern for Ashworth to start the year had been the strength of his doubles squads, but the Blue Devils had great success from the outset Friday, with three of the four duos claiming victories in the first round. Annie Mulholland and Ester Goldfeld topped Alexis Garrett and Anett Ferenczi-Bako of UNLV 6-1, Chalena Scholl and Alyssa Smith knocked off Lucia Batta and Santa Shumilina of UNLV 6-4, and Capra and Mar defeated Stanford's 16th-ranked squad of Taylor Davidson and Ellen Tsay 6-4.
“We definitely saw some improvement from our doubles from a week ago,” Ashworth said. “We have to just keep getting better and doing little things with energy and intensity—[playing] the right way.”
The other Duke squad of Marianne Jodoin and Rachel Kahan had to face the best doubles team in the nation—UCLA’s team of Anderson and Brady—and fell 6-1. Jodoin and Kahan bounced back and won three consecutive matches in the consolation bracket.
In the quarterfinals of the winners’ bracket, the Blue Devils faced two tough squads from Southern Cal. Zoe Scandalia and Giuliana Olmos beat Mulholland and Goldfeld 6-2, but Capra and Mar pulled through against Brynn Boren and Zoe Katz, winning by a 6-3 score. They then fell in the semifinals Sunday to Kyle McPhillips and Cameron Harrison of UCLA, 6-4.
“The doubles is so fast being one set to 6 that if you don’t come out on the court with a lot of energy, you’re going to get behind,” Ashworth said. “When Capra and Mar played the team from USC Saturday, they came out right from the start with high intensity and high emotion, because they knew that they had to.”
In the opening round of singles Friday, Duke went 2-4 in the first round. Goldfeld knocked off Paola Artiga of UNLV 6-0, 6-2, and Capra topped Giuliana Olmos of USC 6-3, 6-1. Both Duke girls then lost in the subsequent round. Goldfeld had the fortune of drawing the top-ranked player in the nation, UCLA's Robin Anderson, in round two, and she fell 6-1, 6-2. Capra defaulted in her scheduled match against Tsay.
Mulholland dropped a tight match to Scandalis, falling 5-7, 6-4, 10-5, and the three other Blue Devils competing—Mar, Scholl, and Smith—all lost to ranked opponents, with Scholl and Smith bowing out against the No. 5 and No. 4 seeds, respectively.
“The tournament was so strong that the losses we had weren’t really bad losses,” Ashworth said. “I just told them that they had to keep fighting for points and finishing points.”
Duke thrived in the consolation singles bracket, with Mulholland, Smith, Scholl and Jodoin all winning Friday. Smith, Scholl, and Jodoin each reached the quarterfinals of the bracket.
The Blue Devils got stronger as the weekend went along, going 4-1 in additional singles matches Sunday. Goldfeld shellacked No. 27 Sofie Oyen of Florida, 6-2, 6-0, and Mar was able to claim her first victory of the weekend when she battled back against Krista Hardebeck of Stanford 5-7, 7-5, 10-3. Jodoin beat down Laura Slater of North Carolina 6-1, 6-0, and Smith knocked off USC’s Katz 6-2, 6-4. Mulholland, who seems to have a knack for getting into long battles early on this season, dropped a heartbreaker to Tessa Lyons of North Carolina, losing the match tiebreaker 13-11.
“A win is a win—it doesn’t matter if it was in the first round on Friday or the matches on Sunday,” Ashworth said. “I thought [Sunday] was definitely a good way to end the weekend and give us some confidence hosting the first round of national team indoors next weekend.”