Coming into this weekend, Duke knew it faced an uphill battle against No. 2 Florida. Midway through the doubles matches Sunday, however, the Blue Devils found themselves neck-and-neck with the Gators (7-0), poised to tarnish Florida’s undefeated record.
Missed opportunities plagued No. 6 Duke (6-1), though, as it suffered its first loss of the season, a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the talented and consistent Gators.
“I think we learned that there is no one in the country that we should be scared of or intimidated by,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said.
At one point, the duo of Ellah Nze and Monica Gorny at the top position went up 6-3 on Allie Will and Sofie Oyen, the No. 1 doubles team in the country. Nze and Gorny even held a match point before falling 9-7. Duke’s three newly-formed doubles pairings couldn’t grind out a win, and the Blue Devils dropped the doubles point for only the second time this season.
Florida capitalized on its momentum at the No. 1 singles spot, as seventh-ranked Will quickly dispatched Nadine Fahoum in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2. Down 3-0 in the match after Liz Plotkin fell at the No. 3 spot, Duke looked to mount a comeback bid. Mary Clayton decisively beat Olivia Janowicz, 6-3, 6-3, winning the Blue Devils their first point of the day. Despite falling behind 6-2 in the first frame, freshman Rachel Kahan subsequently dominated Alexandra Cercone, taking the second and third sets, 6-2, 6-0, respectively.
Ashworth highlighted Kahan’s confidence.
“Once she calmed down a little bit, she slowed down a little bit, she settled down… she handled it well,” Ashworth said. “She’s a great fighter, both hitting the ball but also with her reaction on the court. She’s brought a lot to our team so far.”
With the score at 3-2, the outcome of the match was left to two of Duke’s most experienced players, Nze and Reka Zsilinszka. Nze initially fell behind Joanna Mather, losing the first set, 6-3. But the senior captain came back with a vengeance, taking the second set, 6-0. The two battled in the final set, breaking each other several times before Mather won a decisive break point, moving the score to 3-5 and ultimately leading Florida to its seventh win and keeping its undefeated season intact.
“In the end, we have [Nze and Zsilinszka] out there who have won over 200 matches for us in their careers,” Ashworth said. “We came up short today, but… you want to be in that position, where those are the people that we definitely want out there to finish the match.”
Despite falling to the Gators Sunday, Ashworth viewed the match as a pivotal moment for the team’s confidence, as the Blue Devils look forward to the National Indoors in Charlottesville, Va. from Feb. 18-21.
“I thought that we learned a lot about ourselves,” he said. “I think that we proved to ourselves that we can play with any team in the country.... We’re not sitting in our locker room happy with the results at all.”
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