After winning the doubles point in dramatic fashion and building quick leads on three singles courts, Duke looked poised to move to 18-1 this year when besting its opponent in doubles.
Texas had other ideas.
The Longhorns overcame an early 2-0 deficit by winning four straight singles matches to upset the ninth-seeded Blue Devils 4-2 Saturday afternoon at Ambler Tennis Stadium in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Duke had chances in all of the singles matches it lost but fell short in the second round for the second straight year after eight consecutive third-round appearances.
"They played the bigger points when we were up better," Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. "3-0, 4-1, those kinds of situations, we kind of stepped back and were hoping they would miss rather than staying aggressive."
The Blue Devils (19-7) started the match by gaining momentum in doubles as they had so many times this season. After Texas' 16th-ranked duo of Breaunna Addison and Dani Wagland knocked off Samantha Harris and Kaitlyn McCarthy at the top doubles spot 6-2, Duke's junior duo of Chalena Scholl and Alyssa Smith claimed a 6-3 win against Neda Koprcina and Chelsea Crovetti.
The first overall point of the match came down to doubles court 3, where Blue Devil freshmen Jessica Ho and Elysse Hamlin battled Katie Poluta and Daniella Roldan. The back-and-forth contest featured eight breaks of serve and eventually went to a tiebreak. Tied 3-3 in the tiebreak, Ho and Hamlin came up big when they had to, winning three straight points and putting the match away on their second match point.
The Longhorns (16-8) struggled early in singles action on several courts after dropping the doubles point, with Harris, McCarthy and Ho racing out to early first-set leads in singles for Duke on courts 2, 3 and 5, respectively.
"I thought we got off to some good starts, but Texas did a good job of fighting, staying in and not letting the situation really get to them," Ashworth said.
Ho was the only Blue Devil able to consolidate an early lead into a singles win and team point, winning the first five games of her match against Roldan before sealing a 6-1, 6-4 victory. The Wexford, Pa., native finished the year by winning eight straight singles matches.
But Duke's momentum ended there, as McCarthy—the No. 55 singles player in the country—lost her rhythm against Wagland. After dropping the first three games of the match, Wagland reeled off eight in a row to seal the first set and build a lead in the second.
The Longhorn sophomore went on to close out a 6-3, 6-2 win to get her team on the board and avenge a 6-3, 6-0 indoor loss to McCarthy Feb. 21, when the Blue Devils knocked off Texas 4-3.
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"[McCarthy definitely wasn't as aggressive as she needs to be," Ashworth said. "When she's stepping up and going into the court and going after her shots, she's a much better player."
The Longhorns leveled the match at No. 4 singles when Poluta dominated Hamlin 6-1 in the first set and overcame a 2-0 deficit in the second to knock off the freshman for the second time this season 6-1, 6-4.
The missed opportunities continued to mount for Duke when freshman Christina Makarova fell on court 6 to Lana Groenvynck. After Groenvynck built a 4-0 lead, Makarova reeled off four games of her own to even the first set before four consecutive breaks of serve led to a tiebreak.
Makarova—who did not play Friday against Virginia Commonwealth as Smith played No. 6 singles—struggled in the tiebreaker, falling 7-2, and never regained her footing. Groenvynck won the second set 6-0 to avenge a straight-set loss to Makarova in the teams' regular-season matchup, moving Texas to 3-0 in rematches and putting the Blue Devils on the brink of elimination.
"I thought we could go on the court with some confidence knowing we had beaten these girls before—Texas just did a better job than we did in those pressure situations," Ashworth said. "When you get tight, you get nervous and you get a little bit more defensive. That's what happened with [McCarthy], Elysse and Christina."
Duke continued unraveling on court 2, where after building a 4-1 lead against Koprcina in the first set Harris dropped the opening set 7-5. The Melbourne, Australia, native tried to keep her 12-match winning streak alive and extend the match to a third set by building a 5-3 lead in the second, but was again unable to close out a set when she needed to.
After losing the ensuing game, Harris dropped a set point leading 40-30 in the 5-4 game. In frustration, the sophomore slammed her racket into the court. The umpire called a violation on Harris for the infraction and docked her the following point, giving Koprcina the game.
Koprcina went on to clinch her 14th straight victory and send her team to the third round by winning a second-set tiebreak 7-0 after a series of Harris unforced errors.
Harris' code violation was the Blue Devils' second of the day, with McCarthy being penalized earlier in the afternoon.
"We've got to be mentally better. That shows that the moment got to us," Ashworth said. "We haven't had those kind of issues all year and to have two in one match is tough."
Perhaps the Blue Devils' best singles performance of the day came on court 1, where 65th-ranked Scholl battled No. 10 Addison, who carried a 34-3 record into Saturday's match.
Scholl held her own against the Big 12 Player of the Year, winning a back-and-forth first set 7-5 then bouncing back after dropping the second set 6-1 and going down a break in the third by breaking back to level the decisive set at 1-1.
The match went unfinished after Koprcina sealed the win for Texas.
"Chalena was great staying out there and giving us a chance," Ashworth said. "Hopefully Chalena learns a lot from that knowing that she can compete with anybody in the country."
With senior Beatrice Capra—who missed the team's last seven matches due to injury—the only player leaving Duke's program, the Blue Devils will look to learn from their second consecutive early-round exit in the offseason.
"We need to understand that just because it's Duke and just because of the history of our program, no one is going to give us anything," Ashworth said. "We've got to be very hungry as a team next year."