After splitting the first two matchups this season with their Round of 16 opponent, the Blue Devils dominated their conference foe in the most crucial one of all.
Fourth-seeded Duke downed 13th-seeded Clemson 4-1 Thursday evening in the round of 16 of the NCAA Team Championship at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga., to advance to the quarterfinal round for the 17th time in school history. The Blue Devils will take on fifth-seeded UCLA Friday at 4:00 p.m.
“Clemson’s a great team,” said head coach Jamie Ashworth. “Obviously there’s a lot of familiarity with the two teams. It didn’t produce the best tennis for either one of us, but I think both teams competed well.
Although Duke fell at Clemson 4-3 April 17, the Blue Devils quickly rebounded to dominate the Tigers 4-0 in the quarterfinals of the ACC Championship April 25. Showing no ill effects from its earlier loss to Clemson, Duke was able to play confident, aggressive tennis again Thursday when it mattered most. The Blue Devils have not surrendered a point yet in the Championship.
Duke (27-4) grabbed the momentum early in the match by claiming the doubles point.The Blue Devils' third-best doubles team of junior Annie Mulholland and freshman Chalena Scholl fell behind the team of Jessy Rompies and Joana Eidukonyte 3-1, but stormed back to win the match 8-4.
"It’s tough to come here and play a conference team that you’re so familiar with, knowing that they’re just as familiar with you," Ashworth said. "We got through, and it started with the doubles match.”
Although Duke’s second-best team of junior Ester Goldfeld and freshman Alyssa Smith fell to Romy Koelzer and Tristen Dewar 8-5, its best team of sophomore Beatrice Capra and senior Hannah Mar won a back-and-forth affair with Clemson’s Yana Koroleva and Beatrice Gumulva 8-6 to secure the doubles point.
The Tigers (22-7) never got going after falling in doubles, as the Blue Devils that have carried the team in singles continued their red-hot play.
Redshirt junior Rachel Kahan—Duke’s fifth-best singles player—was first off the court with a 6-4, 6-3 victory against Rompies. Kahan has dominated her opponents lately and has yet to drop a set en route to claiming a point in each of the three Blue Devil victories in the Championship.
The Unionville, Conn., native has had a busy week, as she also participated in Duke’s graduation proceedings and earned her degree.
Senior Hannah Mar also graduated last weekend and earned her 29th victory of the season with a 6-4, 6-2 victory against Gumulva. For the second consecutive match, Mar’s aggression at net in doubles positively affected her focus and poise in quickly ending her singles match.
Duke’s depth showed Thursday when a freshman playing in her first Round of 16 match closed out Clemson. Fresh off a doubles victory, Scholl knocked off Dewar 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 to send her team through to the next round and earn a date with the Bruins.
“I got a little tight in the last few games, but I was able to pull it out,” Scholl said. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work to get here, so I’m looking forward to playing more matches over the next few days.”
When the match was decided, Duke’s two best singles players were battling in the deciding sets of tight matches. Capra trailed Koroleva 2-1 and Goldfeld trailed Koelzer 4-3 in the respective third sets.
The Blue Devils will look to continue getting contributions from all parts of the lineup Saturday and keep their season alive in what promises to be Duke’s closest match of the tournament. No. 5 UCLA did not surrender a point en route to the quarterfinals.
It will be the second meeting between the two this season, as the Blue Devils edged out a 4-3 victory against the Bruins Feb. 10 in the ITA Indoor Championship to claim their first title since 2003.