Fresh off a weekend in Sin City, team competition is once again taking center stage for Duke.
The No. 10 Blue Devils will open the ITA Weekend Kick-off Tournament Friday at the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center with a matchup against Columbia. The winner will then go on to face the winner of a match between Tulane and Kentucky. Whoever comes out on top from the final match will earn a place among 15 other teams at the ITA National Team Indoor Tournament in Virginia next month.
After facing some of the nation's top players in Las Vegas, Duke looks to build off that success when competing in its first dual match in two full weeks.
“We played against some good teams and players in Vegas, and knowing that we can compete with them gives us confidence for our upcoming matches,” junior Ester Goldfield said.
Goldfield, like many of her teammates, has gotten off to a hot start this season, as she took down two highly-ranked opponents in Las Vegas and won her second straight ACC Player of the Week award.
Despite the Blue Devil’s recent success, the team realizes it cannot overlook Columbia. The Lions come into the tournament as one of the best teams in a strong Ivy League, and boast the No. 20 and No. 24 doubles teams in the nation.
“They have really good doubles teams,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “They had two teams get into the National Indoors in New York earlier this year. I think the top of their lineup is really strong. I think a lot of times teams come in a little bit intimidated with setting and everything here, but I don’t think they will be intimidated at all.”
One area where Duke holds a clear advantage over the Lions is that they have already played a dual match against William & Mary and played in a tournament last weekend. Friday will be Columbia's first competition of the season.
“Hopefully we can use that to our advantage at the beginning of the match and get off to some quick starts,” Ashworth said.
In the fall season, it was in singles where the Blue Devils excelled and in doubles where they struggled. But the spring has been the opposite—Duke's doubles play is carrying the team.
“I think we have to do a better job fighting for points in singles and not relying on people to make errors, but us being the one in control of the points and the tempo,” Ashworth said. “Everyone is going to make physical errors. The best players in the world make physical errors, but if we can cut down the mental errors when we’re in these pressure situations then I think we’ll be a really good team.”
If Duke comes out focused and with high energy, it should have no trouble dispatching Columbia and moving on to the next round.
Should the Blue Devils advance, they will face either Tulane or Kentucky. Both teams are ranked highly and could pose challenges for the Blue Devils, but for now the team is just focused on putting in a strong effort against the Lions.
“You can’t worry the second round before the first round,” Ashworth said. “We’ve got to worry about Columbia and come out and play a good match and make sure we’re prepared and in the right frame of mind to play them.”