Last week, head coach Jamie Ashworth said the Blue Devils weren't looking ahead to a potential third meeting with ACC rival Miami, which they bested April 19 in a thrilling ACC Championship final.
They're looking now.
After Miami punched its ticket to the NCAA Quarterfinals first, it was up to Duke to do its part. The Blue Devils rose to the challenge, taking four straight points Friday to seal a 4-2 Round of 16 victory over No. 14 Arkansas (15-8) in College Station, TX. They will face Miami in their 13th Quarterfinal appearance in school history and first since 2006.
No. 3 Duke (26-3) dug itself out of an early hole in which it dropped the doubles point for the first time in over a month. Amanda Granson and Melissa Mang fell 8-4 to the Razorbacks' top pair of Nanar Airapetian and Anouk Tigu, while the combo of Reka Zsilinszka and Ellah Nze could not hold off Arkansas at the third doubles position.
"We came out a little flat," Ashworth said. "We've done such a good job of being aggressive and controlling the tempo in doubles, but I thought we came out a little bit more defensive and more in the mode of hoping that Arkansas would miss, rather than us being the aggressive ones."
A loss at No. 6 singles put the Blue Devils behind 0-2, but they responded with two straight-set wins, one after another. At No. 5, Mang cruised 6-0, 6-3 over Airapetian, and at the third spot Zsilinszka followed immediately by breaking open her match 6-4, 6-2 to even the score. Duke took the lead for good on a 6-2, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2 win from Granson.
Freshman Mallory Cecil gave the Blue Devils its fourth and final point off a tremendous showing against the nationally 2nd-ranked player. No. 6 Cecil lost the opening set to Aurelija Miseviciute in a tiebreak but regrouped quickly, rolling to 6-2 and 6-1 second and third sets.
"It was kind of like a fresh start [after the first set]," Cecil said. "The tactic that had been working for me was pulling it out wide and then going for the open court, so that's what I focused on. I was serving really well, so I was utilizing that to be on the offensive early in the points. It was going to come down to the wire, and that gave me a lot of incentive to not ease up once I got going."
After upending Miseviciute, Cecil's record stands at 25-3 on the year.
A month after receiving the ACC Freshman of the Year honor, she was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Rookie of the Year in the southeast last week, which makes her eligible for the national Rookie of the Year award.
"It's a great thing for everyone on our team to know we're always trying to get the best people we can into our program," Ashworth said. "She's following in some big footsteps--Ellah [Nze] won it last year. We've been fortunate to have a couple people win the [southeast Rookie of the Year] award."
Cecil now claims wins over the top four players in the country, and her next opponent will be one of those top four. Cecil will meet No. 3 Julia Cohen Sunday at 1 p.m. ET when Miami and Duke battle for a place in the final four.
Today's win was the Blue Devils' 15th-straight, and they have not lost since colliding with-who else?-Miami March 22 in the teams' first clash of the season.
"From the loss, I will take that we definitely let the [Miami] crowd get to us," Cecil said. "We didn't really take our time and just rushed through things because of the atmosphere, whereas in our win, we matched their intensity and were solely focused on our matches. We have to match their emotion. They're going to throw everything they possibly can."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.