So far, so good.
The Duke women's tennis team blazed through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, beating Furman (18-9) and William & Mary (20-13) by 4-0 counts. The Blue Devils (21-4) move on to face Northwestern (25-4) today at the University of Georgia in the round of 16.
The Wildcats present a familiar foe for the Blue Devils. On February 21, Duke defeated then seventh-ranked Northwestern 5-2 in Durham. The match was punctuated by senior Amanda Johnson's 7-5, 7-5 victory over third-ranked Cristelle Grier, Grier's only career dual match loss.
"I think that's a good draw for us," freshman Tory Zawacki said. "Beating Northwestern, I think we have a good mental advantage over them."
Not only will the Blue Devils have the mental edge, but they will also have a weather advantage in steamy Athens, Ga. against a Wildcats team less accustomed to playing outdoors.
"I hope we go to Athens and it's 95 degrees because that's something that they're not used to," head coach Jamie Ashworth said. "We'll have the recall, especially down low, winning five of six singles matches against us . . . Even though it was two months ago, it's fresh in our minds."
To get to Athens, the Blue Devils had to knock off an upset-minded Furman team. Though it was evident that Duke was rusty--the Furman match was the Blue Devils' first in 34 days--the team made short work of the Paladins 4-0. Zawacki's 6-0, 6-3 victory over Shannon Moore clinched the match early.
"We were more talented than Furman," Ashworth said. "They competed really well and probably played one of their better matches they've played all year, but we're just more talented."
The next day, however, Duke shook off the rust with a more dominating 4-0 win over 36th-ranked William & Mary. The victory was highlighted by a pair of dominating victories by eighth-ranked senior Amanda Johnson, who handled the Tribe's 25th-ranked Megan Muth 6-1, 6-2, and Zawacki, who defeated William & Mary's Amy Wei by a score of 6-1, 6-1.
"We played a lot of better than we did yesterday," Johnson said. "I think we needed a couple of matches to find our rhythms again and get back into match mode. It's tough taking so much time off."
Duke's doubles were again impressive, winning at the second and third spots, for the second straight day. In just their second game together, the Blue Devils' third flight tandem of Katie Blaszak and Kristin Cargill beat the Tribe's Alex de Guzman and Emily Mowery 8-2. In two tournament games, Blaszak and Cargill have allowed opponents to win just three games.
"William & Mary's a good team," Ashworth said. "They've had some good wins . . . but at the same time, we're deeper."
The victories, however, did not come without a price. Despite the layoff, the Blue Devils will be battling the injury bug along with the Wildcats in Athens today. In the William & Mary match, Blue Devils Jennifer Zika and Cargill both required stoppages in play to treat injuries. Sophomore Julia Smith, who was originally slated to play singles and doubles, was replaced by Cargill at the last minute.
"We've been playing since September 7," Ashworth explained. "We're the longest of any NCAA sport and physically, it just beats these girls up."
The availabilities of both Zika, who is suffering from pulled quadriceps muscles, and Cargill, who "felt a pop in her shoulder" according to Ashworth, is unknown for today's match.
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