Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth considers the ACC season a “14-match sprint” for his squad. During their first conference test Friday, the top-ranked Blue Devils could not get out of the starting blocks.
Virginia took five of six opening sets in singles play, and the 13th-ranked Cavaliers ended up closing out all of those matches en route to a 5-2 victory Friday night at Boar’s Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, Va.
“Virginia did a really good job of coming out and getting on top of us in singles,” Ashworth said. “We fought ourselves back and definitely had some opportunities, but they just kept pressing and pressing, and they played a really good match.”
Duke (8-1, 0-1 in the ACC) did open strong in doubles Friday, claiming the doubles point with wins at the first and second positions. Sophomore Beatrice Capra and senior Hanna Mar topped the No.4 duo in the nation, Julia Elbaba and Rachel Pierson, 8-6 in the top doubles spot. Junior Ester Goldfeld and freshman Alyssa Smith then nudged Stephanie Nauta and Maci Epstein in a tiebreaker 8-7 (7-4), to give the Blue Devils the opening point.
From there, things quickly went downhill for the Blue Devils as the Cavaliers (6-2, 1-0) took control.
Epstein first knocked off senior Rachel Kahan at fifth singles 6-1, 6-2. Freshman Chalena Scholl returned to the court for the Blue Devils and took over the reins at second singles but went down in straight sets to No. 53 Danielle Collins, 6-2, 6-4. The match was Scholl’s first singles contest since the National Team Indoor Quarterfinals against North Carolina.
“She had a lot of opportunities, and it was good having her back out on the court,” Ashworth said. “She’ll keep getting better and better the more matches she plays. She’ll be better Sunday [against Syracuse] and she’ll be better next week than on Sunday.”
Minutes later, No. 42 Mar suffered her first loss in dual-match play this spring, falling to No.107 Nauta in straight sets, 7-5, 6-4.
Down 3-1, Duke’s back was up against the wall, but the squad wouldn’t go quietly. After getting shut out in the second set by No. 39 Pierson, Goldfeld—ranked 20th nationally—nearly returned the favor in the third, as she roared out to a 5-0 lead before closing it out by a score of 6-3, 0-6, 6-2. The win at third singles brought the Blue Devils within a point at 3-2.
With the match hanging in the balance, all eyes turned to a matchup between two of the nation's top players. Elbaba, ranked fourth in the country, squeaked out the first set 7-5 over Duke’s Capra. Capra, the No. 3 player nationwide, was able to take a 5-4 lead in the second, but Elbaba ran off the final three games for the 7-5, 7-5 victory.
Senior Marianne Jodoin, who appeared in the national rankings this past week at No. 115, was the only Blue Devil who forced a third set after dropping the opener, but she also fell to Marie Faure, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
Ashworth noted that although it is easy to look at the big picture, avoiding early deficits start not with winning sets or games, but points.
“We talked about how we have to do a better job of concentrating at the beginning of games and sets," he said. "It seems like we’re always serving at love-30, or returning down 30-love, and it’s sort of a microcosm of these matches. We’ve got to do a better job of valuing every point and every shot.”
Duke has made some miraculous comebacks this season, including in the National Indoor Championships against UCLA, in which the squad battled back from a 3-0 deficit to claim the victory. In that match, as in Friday’s, the Blue Devils dropped five of the six opening sets in singles; however, they were able to salvage comeback wins in three of those showdowns.
For consistent success in conference play, however, Duke will need to start out these dual matches in top gear.
“We’re too good of a team to get off to these slow starts,” Ashworth said. “When you play a good team, you can’t give them that confidence, so that’s something we really have to focus on.”
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