Sixteen of the nation's top 17 teams gathered Friday in Charlottesville, Va., to battle it out at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships. When the dust settled Monday, only Duke remained.
The No. 10 Blue Devils captured the tournament crown by knocking off top-10 opponents in three consecutive days, culminating in a 4-3 victory against No. 5 UCLA after Duke battled back from a 3-0 deficit. The victory was the Blue Devils' second ITA National Team Indoors championship and first since 2003.
"We were able to make a statement heading into the rest of the year,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “For us to walk away winners of that is just unbelievable.... It is something we strive to do every year.”
Duke (8-0) opened its championship showdown against the Bruins by dropping the doubles point for the first time all season. The duo of Robin Anderson and Jennifer Brady—the nation's top-ranked doubles team—took down the Blue Devils' Beatrice Capra and Hanna Mar 6-2. Catherine Harrison and Kyle McPhillips added a 6-1 victory against Ester Goldfeld and Alyssa Smith to put Duke in an early 1-0 hole.
The deficit only grew larger for the Blue Devils, as Harrison added a 6-3, 6-4 victory against Rachel Kahan in the fifth singles position and Kaitlin Ray knocked off Marianne Jodoin 6-1, 6-1 at sixth singles to give UCLA (8-1) a commanding 3-0 advantage. Sitting just one point away from elimination, Duke no longer had a margin for error.
"As long as they believe in themselves and trust themselves and believe in each other and trust each other, then anything can happen,” Ashworth said.
Smith was the first to get on the board for the Blue Devils, clawing her way back into the match after dropping the first set to take a 3-6, 6-1, 10-8 victory against No. 36 McPhillips. Goldfeld—ranked 45th in the nation—was the next Duke player to notch a victory, taking down ninth-ranked Chanelle Van Nguyen by a score of 6-4, 7-5. Goldfeld was the only Blue Devil that did not have to come back from a one-set deficit to win her match.
Capra was unphased in her matchup against Anderson, the nation's top-ranked player. After losing a quick first set, the sophomore stormed back to take a 1-6. 6-3, 10-7 victory to even the match at 3-3. The third-ranked singles player in the country, Capra also knocked off the nation's No. 2 player when she defeated North Carolina's Jamie Loeb 6-4, 6-4 Saturday in the quarterfinal round. Ashworth said that Capra was his team's star of the weekend as she knocked off the nation's top two players.
With the match knotted up, all eyes turned to No. 49 Mar. The senior dropped the first set to Brady—ranked 24th in the nation—by a score of 6-3. Brady held a 5-4 lead in the second set and was serving for the match, but Mar broke serve and took the second set in a tiebreak 7-6 (7-3). Mar rode the momentum of her second-set victory to a 10-3 win in the third-set tiebreak, completing an improbable comeback for Duke and giving her team the tournament crown.
"We had to [believe] to the fullest extent," Ashworth said. "Having to win at one, two, three and four today was a full-team effort, and I am definitely proud of that."
Duke's victory against UCLA was the third top-10 win the team notched at National Team Indoors. The Blue Devils began their championship run Friday by knocking off No. 11 Michigan 4-2. The team followed that up with a 4-2 win against No. 3 North Carolina Saturday. The Tar Heels were the tournament's two-time defending champions. Duke earned its spot in the championship match with a 4-2 victory against No. 8 California.
The Blue Devils' tournament victory against the nation's top competition should make for a shake-up in the next ITA team rankings, which are slated to be released Tuesday.