Update: The Blue Devils will face fifth-seeded Virginia at noon Friday. The Cavaliers defeated 12th-seeded Florida State 4-3 Thursday to reach the ACC tournament quarterfinals. First serve was moved up by one hour due to the threat of inclement weather.
Last season, Duke arrived at the ACC tournament prepared for the quarterfinals with a full roster and two days extra rest but returned to Durham empty-handed, stung by the Yellow Jackets 4-3 for the second time in 2015.
Entering the conference championship after a two-round bye again this year, the No. 8 Blue Devils will look to make a deeper run in the bracket to avenge last season’s early exit. Fourth-seeded Duke will take the court Friday at noon at the Cary Tennis Park in Cary, N.C., across the net from the winner of Thursday’s matchup between fifth-seeded Virginia and 12th-seeded Florida State.
The Blue Devils dispatched the Cavaliers 4-0 and the Seminoles 6-1 in regular season play April 1 and Feb. 26, respectively, but they cannot afford to get ahead of themselves and think about their potential semifinal match looming against top-seeded North Carolina, a team undefeated in conference play this season.
“We have done a great job over these last couple days of preparing for the tournament and not really worrying about who we play,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We have been talking a lot about playing to our ability and not worrying about our opponents but taking care of what we need to do.”
Beatrice Capra will be absent from Duke’s conference tournament lineup as she continues to recover from an illness that prevented her from competing on Senior Day against N.C. State April 12. The timetable for Capra’s return remains uncertain.
But in her absence, junior Chalena Scholl and freshman Ellyse Hamlin have been playing their best tennis of the season.
Scholl has won two consecutive upset matches on the road against opponents ranked in the top 40, outlasting Georgia Tech’s No. 34 Johnnise Renaud 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5 April 15 and downing Clemson’s No. 40 Ayan Broomfield in straight sets 6-3, 6-3 April 17. The Pompano Beach, Fla., native has only lost one of seven matches while playing on Duke’s top singles court and jumped from 97th to 55th in the most recent national rankings.
Hamlin has won three of her last four singles matches and clinched the team victory for the Blue Devils (18-5, 11-3 in the ACC) at the Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center against Boston College and N.C. State. The freshman has joined her classmate Jessica Ho in doubles with her usual partner Capra sidelined, and the duo remains undefeated on court three with a five-match winning streak dating back to Duke’s dual with Elon Jan. 20.
“[Chalena and Ellyse] are playing better than they have the entire semester,” Ashworth said. “Ellyse keeps getting better and better and has been working really hard. Chalena has embraced playing in that No. 1 position and has done a great job getting two wins over higher-ranked opponents.”
With the Tar Heels looming in their half of the bracket, the Blue Devils will need a quick win Friday in hopes of staying fresh for a Saturday matchup. Duke will look to sophomore Samantha Harris to lead all players off the court as she has all season. In eight of her last 10 singles matches, Harris was either the first or second Blue Devil to finish play. The Melbourne, Australia, native has won 10 of her last 11 matches—with the one break in her streak coming from an unfinished match—and has only lost once in ACC play, falling to Virginia Tech’s Elena Cerezo-Codina 6-7, 1-6.
“We have to take advantage of our bye and also try to do everything we can to get off the court as fast as we can to prepare for the next day,” Ashworth said. “At the same time, if we don’t take care of what we are supposed to do in the first one, there is no second one. There’s a fine balance there between leaving everything we have on the court and being efficient and disciplined in doing that.”
No. 16 Virginia (14-9, 9-5) could present a tough matchup for Duke on courts one and two, with its top two singles players—second-ranked Danielle Collins and No. 16 Julia Elbaba—ranked ahead of the Blue Devils’ top healthy athlete—No. 52 Kaitlyn McCarthy. Daneika Borthwick is Florida State’s lone singles representative in the ITA top 125, coming in at 38th. The Cavaliers and the Seminoles (9-13, 3-11) will compete Thursday at 1 p.m.