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Duke women's tennis gets two-round bye for ACC tournament, to play Friday

Senior Annie Mulholland and Duke will start play in the ACC tournament Friday.
Senior Annie Mulholland and Duke will start play in the ACC tournament Friday.

The Blue Devils enter the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament with a chance for redemption after a two-round bye.

The conference championships begin Wednesday at Cary Tennis Park in Cary, N.C. No. 23 Duke will not face its first opponent until Friday as the third seed in the tournament, taking on either eighth-seeded Georgia Tech or the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between 11th-seeded Wake Forest and 14th-seeded N.C. State if the Yellow Jackets are upset.

Georgia Tech handed the Blue Devils this season’s only home conference loss March 29. The squad will be rested and ready for a chance at redemption if the Yellow Jackets advance from their Thursday match.

“The tournament is providing us the opportunities to avenge things from earlier in the year when we weren’t playing as well as we should have been,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “You never know how the tournament might go with upsets, but we might have the opportunity to face a good Georgia Tech team. We know that was one match that we let get away from us.”

When the Yellow Jackets were in Durham, No. 16 pair Kendal Woodard and Paige Hourigan sealed a hard-fought doubles point for Georgia Tech. Duke took three singles matches, but could not hold off No. 53 Hourigan, Woodard and Megan Kurey in singles play. The home team fell 4-3.

The Blue Devils (16-8, 11-3 in the ACC) may not get the chance to avenge this loss if the Yellow Jackets fall to the Demon Deacons or the Wolfpack Thursday. Neither team has a player or doubles pair ranked in the ITA top 100 but both have nothing to lose.

In the rest of the bracket, top-ranked North Carolina (26-0, 14-0) earned the first seed and looks poised to take the tournament title with three players ranked in the top 20 of the most recent ITA poll. The Tar Heels are led by No. 7 Jamie Loeb, No. 15 Hayley Carter and No. 20 Caroline Price.

Earning the second seed, No. 16 Miami (16-5, 12-2) boasts No. 10 Stephanie Wagner and her doubles partner Lina Lileikite—the pair rank 15th nationally. No. 5 Julia Elbaba and No. 19 Danielle Collins will lead fourth-seeded and No. 12 Virginia (18-5, 11-3) into the final double-bye slot.

“This is the toughest conference tournament in the country,” Ashworth said. “So we are definitely happy to receive the two byes. We are where we belong right now, and we hope to end up better than that.”

The Blue Devils lost their second-straight conference match April 2—when they were outplayed by the Hurricanes 6-1 on the road—but have been steadily improving since the setback.

“We are playing much better now than we were in March and early April,” Ashworth said. “And actually the matches against Miami were closer than the score shows. We learned a lot from that match and were able to improve from that match. We have a lot more confidence that has been building up over the last month and is higher than it’s been all year.”

Much of Duke’s confidence can be credited to the squad’s senior leaders—No. 39 Ester Goldfeld, Annie Mulholland and Rachel Kahan. The Blue Devils have two more singles players ranked in the top 100—freshman Samantha Harris at No. 83 and junior Beatrice Capra at No. 89—and as a pair Capra and Harris lead Duke’s doubles partnerships at No. 31. Mulholland and Chalena Scholl sit at No. 71.

Looking to stay confident in the postseason, the Blue Devils will open the ACC tournament Friday at 3 p.m.